Jeremy Corbyn: Ukrainians Are Going Through Absolute Hell. Our Job Is to Stop It.

The former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn explains why we should support antiwar activists in Russia against Vladimir Putin — and use our pressure to force a peaceful resolution in Ukraine.

Former leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn in Mexico City, Mexico, January 2022. (Luis Barron / Eyepix Group / Future Publishing via Getty Images)

I’m horrified at the war in Ukraine, horrified at the loss of life, horrified at the bombardment, and horrified at the future. Ukrainian people are now going through absolute hell. They’re frightened of what may happen. Bombardment from the air and the arrival of tanks and other forces is terrifying. My thoughts are with the people of Ukraine. They deserve and should be able to live in peace in the future — as should the peoples of every other country of the world.

We have to apply political pressure on Russia and support the public pressure that’s there in Russia to end this war and to withdraw the Russian forces. And we should go back to the original agreements relating to Ukraine that were made in the Budapest and the later Minsk agreement, which was designed to bring about a long-term ceasefire. All wars end with a political solution. All wars end with dialogue. Why don’t we cut out the fighting zone and go straight into the talking zone?

It’s very easy for a politician in any parliament in the West to get up and say, “Go to war, go to war, go to war.” It’s always easy to vote for somebody else’s children to go to war and die. When a war takes place, there’s always a desire by the opposing sides to make sure it’s only their line and their story that gets out. And so, it’s truth that’s the first casualty in the fog of war.

Solidarity Is Universal

Keir Starmer claims that the Stop the War Coalition is a Russian stooge. There is no evidence that they’ve done anything other than stand up for peace around the world. In my own case, there’s a record of doing so going back as long as your arm, both in the Soviet Union and in post-Soviet Russia. That’s because human rights and solidarity are universal, irrespective of the convenience or inconvenience of the time. I get accused of being pro-Russian and pro-Putin — but actually my position is pro–human rights.

Putin was promoted into office with the support of Tony Blair and some other Western leaders, and he was welcomed in the West with a state visit to Britain at that very time that the Chechen War was going on. The appalling loss of life of Chechen people and of Russian people, the abuse of the human rights of the Chechen people, and the racism toward Chechens in Moscow and other cities was palpable. I was part of an All-Party delegation to Moscow with the parliamentary human rights group. We met many Russian officials complaining about the abuse of human rights and indeed, with Tony Benn, I was part of a public demonstration, a march through London in support of the rights of Chechen people. At the time of the awful event in Salisbury, I said that it was the Tory Party in Britain that had received a great deal of money from Russian oligarchs and that we should be looking at the question of Russian money in Britain.

As I said in Parliament at the time:

We’re all familiar with the way huge fortunes often acquired in the most dubious circumstances in Russia, sometimes connected with criminal elements, have ended up sheltering in London and trying to buy political influence in British party politics. And there has been over £800,000 worth of donations to the Conservative Party to the Conservative Party from Russian oligarchs and their associates.

I was ridiculed at the time — and now we are getting on to the Magnitsky Rules, the register of ownership and where money actually comes from. So, there are many people on the Left who have been quite consistent in supporting journalists’ rights, human rights, the right to demonstrate, and all the other things that we expect within a free society. And indeed, when the 2003 Iraq War started, I was completely opposed to it. But I didn’t think we should go to war with the United States. I didn’t think we should go to war with anybody else. What I thought was we should bring about peace for the people of Iraq.

There is no solution in Ukraine, which involves a war with Russia. What it involves is getting peace to get the Russian forces out of Ukraine. But an attack on Russia isn’t going to bring about peace. It’s going to bring about a worse situation and another war and more bitterness and hatred and more of the world’s precious resources taken up in manufacturing arms and weapons of mass destruction, rather than dealing with the environmental crisis that everyone faces.

A Defeat for Us All

Often, those that dissent at a time of a perception of complete unity sometimes seem to be the prescient voices for the future. So being a bit unpopular once or twice is no bad thing. I’ve often asked this question about whether anybody wins a war or not. A war is fought, land is gained and land is lost. A war ends. The media caravan moves on to somewhere else. But as for the person that’s lost a son or a daughter in that war forever more — they’re going to be thinking on their birthdays what they could have done, what they would have achieved, where they would have been, what they’d be doing now. The hurt goes on and on through their lives.

Nobody actually ever wins a war. Even having a war is a defeat for all of us. And so the question is how to halt the wars as quickly as possible and move on to a process of peace, understanding, and recognition. The worst-case scenario in the current conflict in Ukraine is a complete occupation, huge loss of life, and then the outbreak of resistance of a civil war, which could go on for a very long time.

Even worse would be armed conflict between Russia and NATO forces anywhere, because both nuclear powers are armed to the teeth. Both have highly sophisticated and very efficient weapons. I hope there is never a nuclear conflict anywhere in the world, but clearly the stakes are now very high and it is very, very dangerous indeed.

Some say that being antiwar is a sign of weakness. The opposite is true. It’s a sign of strength that you are prepared to look at the current conflict and say this has to be resolved and we have to bring about peace. So, what we need is more voices for peace, more anti-war activists around the world to expose the dangers and the folly of war and oppose what their governments are doing.

I was inspired to see so many young people on the streets of Moscow and of St Petersburg, of many cities all across Russia, saying it wasn’t done in their name and they didn’t want that war — exactly the same language many of us used on the eve of the invasion of Iraq when we said it’s not done in our name, in the same way Americans said that about the Vietnam War.

So, it is the voices of people all around the world searching for and demanding peace that are the voices we should be listening to at the present time.