Putin, Modi and Trump: Ukraine and Racist Right-Wing Populism

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale

The invasion of Ukraine is appalling. The resistance is heroic. The situation is moving fast, and each step is politically revealing. There remains a great deal of confusion about Putin and Ukraine in the United States and Britain. This long read aims to unpack some of that confusion and to explain Putin’s rise, how he fits into the global racist right, and his reasons for invading Ukraine.

Americans are often puzzled by Donald Trump’s admiration for Putin. The reason is that Putin is one of the two leading figures in new global movement of right-wing populists. Modi, the Prime Minister of India is the other. Trump too is part of that movement.

We start with an explanation of the politics of that movement, by looking at the masculinity of these three populist leaders: Putin, Modi and Trump. We explore the ways that each leader has mixed racism, sexual aggression, violent bullying and Islamophobia with working class pain and anger to support a right-wing project and a murderous fossil fuel future.

And though we do not take our discussion further here, these three are not alone. Their populism characterizes the governments of Bolsonaro in Brazil, Duterte of the Philippines and Netanyahu in Israel, among others – all men with ugly biographies of their own.

Along the way we aim to answer questions that may be of interest to you. For example, why do some American commentators say they supported Putin’s invasion because he has done so much to stop the onward march of LGBT agenda? Why does a CBS reporter make a deal about the whiteness of people in Ukraine? Why did so much of the Republican party support the invasion, as have others on the notional ‘left’? What is it with Modi’s 52-inch chest?

An exploration of masculine styles may seem an unusual way to unpack the new racist right. But this is what we do on Anne Bonny Pirate. In Part One, we look particularly at gender and sexuality, and we ask how this lens can illuminate politics, class and empire.

In Part Two of this long read, we outline our understanding of Putin’s reasons for invading Ukraine. We look at the threats he sees in the global wave of uprisings for democracy. We look at how the threat of climate activism and the changing energy market have made his hold on power increasingly shaky. And we describe the changes in superpower politics after the American defeat in Afghanistan which led Putin to believe he could invade Ukraine with impunity.

We should make clear at the start that we are against Putin’s invasion. We support the Russian protesters for peace. We believe the armed resistance of the Ukrainian army and civilians is the right and proper response to the invasion.

But we do not side with the governments of the United States or the NATO countries of Europe. They have invaded too many other countries and installed too many other dictatorships. They too are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Because there is a lot to unpack, we’ve also packaged this post as a pdf which you can download here.

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From Afghanistan to Ukraine

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale

Six months ago, in a post about the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, we wrote:

“This is a turning point in world history. The greatest military power in the world has been defeated by the people of a small, desperately poor, country. This will weaken the power of the American empire all over the world.”

The consequences of the American defeat are now playing out in Ukraine. Putin, understanding the weakness of American power, is pushing to change the balance of power further.

We also wrote, “The War on Terror has been politically defeated in the United States. The majority of Americans are now in favor of withdrawal from Afghanistan and against any more foreign wars.”

Joe Biden and the American military have no intention of going to war in Ukraine. The political consequences in the US would backfire catastrophically.

Biden has been very clear about not going to war. For weeks he has been saying that Russia would probably invade Ukraine, and that when they did so, the US would retaliate with financial sanctions. His meaning was absolutely clear – if Russia invaded Ukraine, the US would not fight.

The leaders of the other major powers in NATO and the European Union have said much the same thing: financial sanctions, and we won’t fight.

Now that Russia has invaded, the UK immediately announced that they would bring forward financial sanctions against five Russian banks and three Russian individuals. Five banks and three individuals is nothing. In the US, the Biden administration told reporters that they would begin with mild sanctions in the hope of stopping Russian escalation.

Contrast this to the Biden administration’s policy towards Afghanistan which reeks of shame and revenge. The US has confiscated the entire meagre financial reserves of that impoverished country, some 9 billion dollars. They have banned almost all trade and aid, and are purposely pursuing sanctions which are ensuring large scale famine in that country.

Or, contrast the sanctions against Putin to the long American blockade of Cuba, or their unforgiving economic and trade sanctions against Iran.

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