Chris York reports on the reaction of Ukrainians after the former Labour Leader said the West supplying weapons to the country will 'prolong and exaggerate' Vladimir Putin's unprovoked war
Jeremy Corbyn has sparked frustration, anger and disappointment among Ukrainians after he claimed in an interview that they should seek a peace deal with Russia rather than fight on with weapons supplied by the West.
Speaking to the Al Mayadeen website earlier this week, the former Labour Party Leader urged countries such as the UK and US to stop arming Ukraine for the sake of “the safety and security of the whole world”.
“Pouring arms in isn't going to bring about a solution,” he said. “It's only going to prolong and exaggerate this war. We might be in for years and years of a war in the Ukraine... putting more and more arms into the Ukraine isn’t going to bring about [peace].
“This war is disastrous for the people of Ukraine and the people of Russia and... therefore there has to be much more effort put into peace.”
Here in Ukraine, the comments were met with disbelief that a prominent member of the UK’s anti-imperialist movement would suggest negotiating with an imperialist aggressor.
“As someone who's been fascinated by the left side of the European and American political spectrum, I have to say that Jeremy Corbyn is someone I've looked up to at times,” journalist Oleksandra Povoroznyk told Byline Times. “So you can imagine my disappointment at the moment.
“I'd be very surprised if Corbyn has actually spoken to Ukrainians or even knows any, because something I've noticed is that even the most well-meaning Western experts, even the most pro-Ukrainian ones, don't actually want to listen to what Ukrainians are saying.
“A lot of people in the West are denying Ukraine any sort of agency by claiming we're constantly being manipulated by NATO or saying it's a US proxy war and the West is forcing us to fight. None of these people are actually paying attention to what we're actually saying. It's sad and annoying.”
Any peace agreement reached now between Russia and Ukraine would effectively reward Russia’s imperialist and expansionist invasion. Vladimir Putin's army currently occupies around 20% of Ukrainian territory – an area equivalent to half the United Kingdom – and is already making attempts to permanently annex those parts occupied since February.
A massive 84% of Ukrainians are against a peace agreement with Russia if it involves ceding territory to Russia, yet Jeremy Corbyn made no reference in his interview to the withdrawal of Russian troops.
Ukrainian MP, and head of its Foreign Affairs Committee, Oleksandr Merezhko told Byline Times that there is "no alternative to providing Ukraine with the all necessary heavy weaponry because Russia will never stop".
"Putin’s goal is to erase Ukraine from the map of the world," he said. "He is committing genocide against Ukrainian nation. If the West stops supplying weapons to Ukraine it will help Putin to occupy Ukraine and to exterminate Ukrainians.
"Peace with such persons as Putin or Hitler is impossible. They use it only as a temporary respite to accumulate strength and continue.”
A peace deal made now would involve not only Ukraine permanently ceding this territory to Russia, but also condemning the Ukrainians living there to a life under brutal occupation.
“Even if we reach some sort of ceasefire and sign-off part of our territories to Russia, the war will not end because we can see in the occupied territories now, people are being tortured and murdered and raped every single day,” Oleksandra Povoroznyk added.
Ukraine is planning a counter-offensive in the coming months to take back territory around the city of Kherson, where human rights groups have documented countless cases of the torture, arbitrary detainment and forced disappearance of civilians, turning the area into an “abyss of fear and wild lawlessness”.
The planned counter-offensive can only succeed with weapons supplied by countries such as the UK and the US. Without them, the “abyss of fear and wild lawlessness” would become permanent.
Stas Olenchenko, co-founder and writer at Ukraine Explainers, told Byline Times that a deal with Russia is out of the question because “I don’t think anybody would feel safe living in this kind of world".
“If you’re willing to strike a peace deal with Russia now at the cost of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, you should think about what kind of security system you’ll end up with: a system that rewards colonial conquest, genocide and blackmailing of the rest of the world with famine and nuclear war," he said.
The Kremlin’s true intentions for Ukraine are no secret – they are broadcast daily on state-controlled media channels and stated publicly by Russia’s politicians.
Former President Dimitry Medvedev, who is now Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of Russia, has said he hopes Ukraine “disappears from the map”. Meanwhile hosts of Russian talk shows – all approved and controlled by the Kremlin – call Ukrainians “animals”, “Nazis” and members of a “completely fake nation”. Articles on state-backed news channels openly call for the “liquidation” of Ukrainians.
So quite why Jeremy Corbyn believes that Russia should be negotiated with at this stage is beyond Ukrainians themselves.
“We didn't attack anyone – we are defending our homes, land and sovereignty,” Natalia Haidai, a Russian-speaking Ukrainian from Bucha, told Byline Times. “[Corbyn’s] argument is that Ukrainians should surrender or be unable to defend themselves and be literally wiped out. I thought he was for solidarity for oppressed people?
"Genocide isn't peace. It's clear Putin wants to eradicate Ukraine and Ukrainian people from the face of the Earth. If we can't defend ourselves that's what will happen."
On top of the realities on the ground, there is also Russia’s track record as a reliable negotiations partner to contend with.
“Ukraine has tried the diplomacy route many times,” said journalist Oleksandra Povoroznyk. “Russia hasn't kept its word and we've seen from the Budapest Memorandum that just saying they won't invade doesn't mean they'll stick to their word.”
The Islington North MP's interview provoked a heated debate on social media. Byline Times put a call-out on Twitter asking for Ukrainians who either agreed or disagreed with his views. None got in touch to say that they believed what he said was helpful or accurate.
This newspaper also approached the author of a pro-Corbyn tweet who claimed her “family had to leave Odesa and live in Austria now” and that “what has Jeremy Corbyn said wrong? If this was any other politician, people would listen”.
The tweet gathered more than 2,000 likes and retweets, but when asked if she could contact Byline Times for comment, she replied “no” and blocked the author’s account. She then also deleted her original tweet. Additionally, a keyword search of her Twitter history produced conflicting tweets about her family’s Ukrainian heritage.
Another pro-Corbyn account tweeted: “He's exactly right. The war in Ukraine is being managed by Britain and America with the poor people of Ukraine paying the ultimate price.” When asked how many Ukrainians she had spoken to about Ukraine, she replied: “I don't need to discuss anything with Ukrainians to come to an opinion with the evidence available since 2014. Grow up.”
There are also questions around the publication Corbyn chose to give his exclusive interview to.
All those covering Ukraine carry a box of text at the bottom titled “Russia & NATO” that repeats a debunked conspiracy theory about US-backed bio-labs in Ukraine and makes unfound claims about “the insurgence of neo-Nazi groups”.
In the past, Al Mayadeen has repeated conspiracy theories and war crimes denial related to the conflict in Syria and has been accused of using antisemitic conspiracy theories about George Soros "to sow doubt about whistleblowers and leaks" that led to the Pandora Papers scandal, in which Vladimir Putin featured heavily.
Then there is Corbyn’s reference to Ukraine as “the Ukraine” – a phrase that greatly offends the country’s citizens.
Jeremy Corbyn did not respond to Byline Times' request for comment.
“Putin will try to annex as much Ukrainian territory as possible in order to sell it as a victory to his people,” Alex, a former sales executive who has been unemployed since the invasion began, told Byline Times. “It will only strengthen his imperialistic ambitions. Any possible winning option for Putin won't give Ukraine a long peace.”
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