[Source: teenpublic.com]

CounterPunch podcaster Eric Draitser has published a hit piece attacking veteran anti-war activists Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J. S. Davies in the form of a review of their new book, War in Ukraine: Making Sense of a Senseless War.

Eric Draitser
Eric Draitser [Source: rt.com]

His review, published on January 27 by an obscure avowedly socialist online magazine named Tempest, and subsequently republished by left-liberal magazines Portside, and Left Links, heaps contempt upon said book and its authors.

I submitted a version of this critique to Tempest, which declined to publish but offered no explanation as to why. Draitser accuses the authors, and also that part of the left which rejects his Russophobic analysis, as having committed an “abandonment of every principle of internationalism, solidarity, and anti-colonial and anti-imperial politics,” and he evidently imagines himself as the absolute authority on such matters.

[Source: orbooks.com]

The book

My purpose herein is not to critique the Benjamin and Davies book against which Draitser expresses such hostility, but to respond to his misrepresentations of the subject matter: U.S. imperialism, NATO, Ukraine, Russia and the Ukraine War.

However, in a critique of its reviewer, I cannot avoid offering something, at least minimally, of my opinion as to the book’s faults and virtues. With the exception of a few misstatements regarding peripheral matters (such as classifying [p. 25] Ossetians and Abkhazians as “Russians”), the book is generally accurate as to the facts of the Ukraine conflict.

However, in my opinion, it has some faults which include the following:

  • It states (p. 60) that Congress banned U.S. military aid to the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion, but fails to mention that the Pentagon and CIA ignored the ban.
  • It joins Draitser in repeating (pp. 20, 99, 108) the false Cold War portrayal of NATO as “a military alliance built to defend Europe from attack by the U.S.S.R.” In fact, the USSR, devastated by war, both then and subsequently, sought peaceful coexistence with the West. Soviet impositions in Central Europe involved countries (Finland, Poland, Czechoslovakia/Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria) on its western border of which: 4 of 6 (along with the Baltic states had hosted covert-action regime change ops against the USSR during the 1920s, 5 of 6 had repressed their Communist parties throughout the interwar period, and 5 of 6 had been allied to Nazi Germany during its wartime invasion of the USSR. The actual purposes of NATO and of Western European economic integration were: a) to create a U.S.-British-dominated capitalist bloc in Western and Southern Europe, and to b) prevent Communist parties from coming to power by democratic means in those countries. Popular Communist-led insurgencies had liberated Yugoslavia and Albania from foreign fascist occupation without aid from the Soviet Red Army and would have done so in Greece but for British and U.S. military intervention which imposed a brutally repressive fascist regime upon that country. Moreover, Communist parties had emerged with much support in other Western countries, especially Italy and France where they participated in post-war governing coalitions. Propaganda of an alleged Soviet military threat served to promote fear of Communism. Constant repetition eventually induced much of the public and most operatives in their foreign policy establishments to begin to believe it.
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Pro-Soviet sign saying glory to the Soviet liberators. [Source: northstarcompass.org]
  • The book is excessively moralistic and, in my opinion, unrealistic in some of its conclusions.

Some virtues of the book:

  • It is very informative as to the relevant events.
  • It exposes the racism in Western and Ukrainian treatment of refugees.
  • It exposes the deceptive war propagandizing in mainstream news media.
  • Benjamin and Davies advocate pressing for peace talks and a negotiated Ukraine War resolution, which is the appropriate policy for anti-imperialists.
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Medea Benjamin and Nicholas Davies [Source: laprogressive.com]


Many liberal leftists, siding with the U.S.-NATO and Kyiv, purvey falsehoods about the Ukraine War. They often do so out of ignorance and because of their gullible acceptance of one-sided reporting in the mainstream news media (which serve as a propaganda arm of the bipartisan U.S. imperial foreign policy establishment), and/or out of sympathy for suffering Ukrainians and an obsession to be seen as politically respectable.

Many of these “leftists” always were, or have devolved into, liberal reformist big-D Democrats as they seek to induce the broad progressive constituency to give allegiance to these Dems whom they portray as defenders of progress and democracy notwithstanding these Dems’ subservience to capital and empire and their many betrayals of struggles for social justice. As for Draitser, although he may differ from these Dems on some other matters, he clearly sides with them and the U.S. foreign policy establishment on Ukraine. However, being apparently quite knowledgeable, he differs from the ill-informed leftists in that he falsifies the realities of this war out of an obvious Russophobic hatred.

Draitser’s Misrepresentations

1. The global capitalist system. Draitser portrays Russia as a potent capitalist imperialist competitor to the West, whereas it is, in fact, a semi-peripheral capitalist country whose major foreign trade (aside from the export of weapons) consists of exports of minerals and agricultural products and the offshoring of capital (by its oligarchs) to secret bank accounts and the purchase of luxury properties in the West. Moreover, Draitser asserts that this war “has already shaken the global capitalist system.” In fact, capitalism and capitalists (especially military contractors and fossil fuel firms) thrive on wars such as this one. One must wonder what he was thinking when he made those assertions.

2. NATO expansion. Draitser gives grudging credit to Benjamin and Davies for their “highlighting the vicious U.S.-NATO war-machine” and its wide-ranging imperial “military interventionset cetera. But then he alleges that their book “ignores many of the critical elements of the NATO-Russia relationship” and “NATO-Russia collaboration.

He charges Russia with having criminally collaborated with NATO (prior to 2014): a) by selling arms to the U.S.-NATO client regime in Afghanistan (which was fighting an ultra-reactionary al-Qaeda-allied Taliban insurgency while Russia was fighting al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists in Russia’s north Caucasus), and b) by failing to oppose NATO’s 2011 regime-change invasion of Libya (where Russia evidently did not see its interests affected). Draitser then leaps to the conclusion that Russia’s complaint of NATO threat against its national security is nothing but a pretext to justify imperial aggression against its neighbors.

Crucial facts which he evades.

  • In return for the Russian agreement to the reunification of Germany, the U.S. and NATO had promised in 1990 that NATO would not expand into Central or Eastern Europe or conduct military operations there. The U.S. and NATO soon broke that promise. For the past 25 years, Russia, beginning with U.S.-favorite Yeltsin, had repeatedly complained against NATO expansion; diplomatic attempts by Russia to obtain redress invariably fell upon deaf ears.
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[Source: transnational.live]

  • The U.S. has placed nuclear-capable missiles in Poland and Romania (planned from 2008).
  • The U.S. and NATO conduct anti-Russia war games in the Baltic states.
  • The U.S. incited and abetted the 2014 coup which replaced a democratically elected Russia-friendly Ukrainian government with one which was and is hostile toward Russia.
  • The U.S. began conducting secret military training missions in Ukraine in 2015, thereby bringing Ukraine de facto into the anti-Russia NATO military alliance.
  • As Putin has stated, Russia concluded that a military response was necessary and overdue.
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U.S. and Ukrainian soldiers attend an opening ceremony of the joint Ukrainian-U.S. military exercise “Fearless Guardian” at the Yavoriv training ground in 2021. [Source: sputniknews.com]

Clearly, Russia’s perception of threat and provocation from the West was neither imaginary nor pretext.

3. Weapons of mass destruction. Draitser quotes Putin saying “If Ukraine acquires weapons of mass destructionUkraine’s Western patrons may help it acquire these weapons to create yet another threat to our country.” He then dismisses Putin’s concern with a false comparison to the U.S. lie about weapons of mass destruction to justify its 2003 invasion of Iraq. He evades the fact of U.S. placement of nuclear-capable missiles in Poland and Romania and the likely future placement of the same in Ukraine. Has Draitser forgotten how the U.S. reacted when the USSR responded to Washington’s nuclear missiles in Turkey by placing comparable missiles in Cuba?

4. Putin’s intent? Draitser alleges that Benjamin and Davies “ignorewhat Putin said (February 21, 2022) about history, namely, his spiritualized conception of the history of the east Slavic (Russian-Belarusian-Ukrainian) peoples, and his view that Lenin’s policy of right of secession for the USSR’s union republics was “a mistake.

We may, and should, disagree with those Putin views; but Draitser falsely attributes to Putin an intent to erase Ukraine as a sovereign separate state. He alleges that “Putin is quite openly declaring that Ukraine does not, in fact, have a right to exist”; but, while Putin mourns the fact of Ukraine’s separate existence, he acknowledged (in that same speech) that “the events of the past cannot be changed.” Moreover, in his February 24 TV address, Putin stated: “Russia accepted the new geopolitical reality after the dissolution of the USSR. We have been treating all new post-Soviet states with respect and will continue to act this way. We respect and will respect their sovereignty.

Even if we disapprove some of Russia’s annexations, Russia offers very plausible justifications at least with respect to Crimea and Donbass (where the post-coup regime, as explained below, forfeited its right of sovereignty by reneging on promises to their peoples). Despite Putin’s actual statement, Draitser alleges that said statement calls for “the erasure of an entire nation.” Is Draitser unable to distinguish between sentiment and intention, or is he being disingenuous in order to make war propaganda for the U.S., NATO and Kyiv?

5. War crimes. Draitser embraces U.S.-NATO war propaganda by charging Russia with “‘senseless’ criminal attacks on civilian infrastructure” and joins the U.S. and Western liberals in calling it “war crimes.” Meanwhile, he evades the crimes of the post-coup Kyiv regime which include its eight years of artillery and bombing attacks upon the people of the breakaway Donbass republics. Draitser likewise avoids any acknowledgment of the war crimes perpetrated: by the post-coup Ukrainian state against dissidents, by its neo-Nazi militias against racial and gender minorities, and by its armed forces against unarmed captives.

6. Voices. Draitser complains that Benjamin and Davies ignore “Ukrainian voices,” and that they have a “complete absence of any Russian voices.” For him, missing voices means pro-war Ukrainians and pro-Western anti-war commentators in Russia. [In fact, Benjamin and Davies name (pp. 137, 141-143, 147) 13 anti-war Russians; Draitser apparently did not read the entire book.] He names several Ukrainians, including avowed socialist Taras Bilous, who along with the others wants war until Ukraine re-conquers all territory lost since the 2014 coup. He makes no mention of respected Ukrainian socialist intellectual, Volodymyr Ishchenko, who does not support Russia’s invasion, but reports facts which Draitser evades, including the Kyiv regime’s rampant repression of dissent. Draitser also avoids any acknowledgment that there are many socialists and Communists in Russia who support Putin’s action in Ukraine. It seems that, for Draitser, the only “voices” worthy of mention are those with whom he agrees.

Volodymyr Ischenko [Source: lefteast.org]

7. Political repression. Draitser complains of Putin’s “repression” of “independent media.” In addition to his evasions of relevant facts, Draitser’s double standard is astonishing.

Ukraine opposition leader Viktor Medvedchuk in handcuffs. [Source: news.cgtn.com]

Yet, Draitser, like the U.S., directs complaints of repression only against Russia.

8. Donbass. Draitser complains against the attention which Benjamin and Davies give to the Donbass people’s republics which Draitser contemptuously dismisses as creations of “Russian-backed intelligence operatives and/or fascists with deep connections to the Russian state.” He also denies the significance of the “‘anti-coup’ uprisings” which inspired their formation. He then asserts that it was “‘activists’ on the ground doing Russia’s bidding in fomenting the war on Donbass [and] pro-Russian neo-Nazi infiltration of the region that helped spark what became called a ‘civil war.’” It is apparently true that, with reliance upon limited Russian assistance, the more progressive Donbass rebel leadership in 2014 was subsequently displaced by operatives aligned with the more conservative policies prevalent in Russia. Aside from that bit, which Draitser exaggerates, his portrayal is a grossly false caricature of what actually happened.

Facts which he evades.

  • The U.S.-backed 2014 Maidan coup (which Draitser does not even acknowledge) took advantage of popular mass protests which had support almost exclusively in central and western Ukraine (with most of the Maidan protesters pressing for policy changes rather than seeking a coup). The coup itself was spearheaded by violent neo-Nazi militias. It was opposed overwhelmingly by the people in southern and eastern Ukraine (including Donbass).
  • The coup regime sought to suppress popular opposition through brute military repression, but the armed forces at that time lacked the appetite for military action against the people, so the regime organized a new military force into which the neo-Nazi Azov militia was merged.
  • People in Donbass organized their own militias in opposition, thusly began the civil war.
  • Mediation by U.S. allies France and Germany resulted in the Minsk agreements (2014-15), between Kyiv and the rebel leadership, with Kyiv promising to implement autonomy within Ukraine for the two Donbass republics.
  • Russia and a unanimous UN Security Council endorsed said Minsk agreements, and Russia continued to support Minsk for eight years.
  • Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted (December 2022) that Kyiv and NATO backed Minsk in order to gain time for Kyiv to restore its military capacity (severely diminished by the coup) preparatory to a military re-conquest of Donbass.
  • Meanwhile, Kyiv (with U.S. encouragement) refused to implement the promised autonomy and thereby end the civil war.

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[Source: centralmaine.com]

9. Crimea. Draitser says nothing about Crimea except to allege that a Russian oligarch, Konstantin Malofeyev, “was named in a [U.S.] federal indictment as one of the ‘main sources of financing for Russians promoting separatism in Crimea.’” (One must wonder why Draitser relies upon the U.S. government and Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli International Studies Institute, which he also names as an authority, as his sources.)

As a proponent of Kyiv’s re-conquest of Crimea, Draitser has to evade any mention of the actual history.

  • 1954.  Khrushchev orchestrated the decision (of dubious legality) to transfer Crimea from the Russian Soviet Republic to the Ukrainian SSR without the consent or approval of the people of Crimea. 
  • 1991.  At the breakup of the USSR, Crimea’s elected leaders attempted to obtain recognition of Crimea as an independent Republic separate from Ukraine.
  • 1992.  After disputes between Kyiv and Crimea over the scope of Crimea’s autonomy, Kyiv agreed to a compromise recognition of Crimea as an Autonomous Republic within Ukraine. 
  • 1995.  Kyiv abolished the Constitution of Crimea, abolished its office of President, made the elected Crimean parliament’s choice of its Prime Minister subject to veto by Kyiv, and imposed other severe limits (thereby largely negating its autonomy). 
  • 2008.  Polling by the Ukrainian Center for Economic and Political Studies (not an agent of Moscow) found that 64% of Crimeans would like Crimea to secede from Ukraine and join Russia.
  • 2009-11.  The United Nations Development Program (not an agent of Moscow) conducted periodic opinion polls in Crimea. Each time, at least 65% of Crimeans favored Crimea leaving Ukraine and reuniting with Russia. 
  • Crimea’s break with Ukraine was a direct popular response to the U.S.-backed 2014 coup in Kyiv (Crimea having voted overwhelmingly for the ousted government). Assertions that Crimea’s reunion with Russia was effectuated by a Russian “invasion” are false. Although Russia’s authorized military forces already based in Crimea assisted local forces in effectuating the independence referendum and the subsequent secession and reunion with Russia, those actions were welcomed by a huge majority of Crimeans, they being already so inclined. Moreover, given the history of past denials of their self-determination rights by both Moscow (1954) and Kyiv (after breakup of the USSR), the people of Crimea had more than ample justification for seceding and reuniting with Russia. Lenin, insisting that socialists are “the most consistent enemies of oppression,” would have agreed. 
Crimeans celebrate rejoining Russia. [Source: thestar.com]

Draitser insists upon the “right to self-determination” for ethnic Ukrainians (over all of pre-2014 Ukraine), but he would deny self-determination rights to the predominantly non-Ukrainian populations of Donbass and Crimea.

10. Fascists. Draitser paints a whitewashed picture of nationalist Ukrainians as a righteous “nation” fighting for their “survival” and national “self-determination” against Russian “fascists.” Facts which he evades.

Ukrainians openly celebrate Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera in post-coup Ukraine. [Source: soft.net]

Draitser brands nearly every Russian whom he can identify as involved on the anti-Kyiv side as a “fascist.” He is evidently blind to actual fascists who dictate policy for Kyiv.

11. Peace negotiations. Draitser responds to calls for peace negotiations by Benjamin and Davies and other anti-imperialists by accusing them of doing “a tremendous disservice to the people of Ukraine resisting an invasion, the people of Russia living under (especially those resisting) a criminal regime, and the international Left as a whole.

He evades the facts as to U.S. objectives vis-à-vis Ukraine:

  • The U.S., especially through its National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has been funding and training anti-Russia pro-West media and civil society organizations in Ukraine (and other former Soviet Republics) since the collapse of the USSR in 1991. The CIA has, no doubt covertly, also done its bit to promote anti-Russia politics in Ukraine.

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Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova gave a keynote address at the 2022 Democracy Award event. [Source: ned.org]
  • A 2019 report titled “Overextending and Unbalancing Russia” by the U.S.-military-funded think tank, Rand Corporation, proposed that the U.S. goal should be “to undermine Russia just as it did the Soviet Union in the cold war.” U.S. President Biden has made public statements embracing that as the U.S. objective.
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[Source: globalresearch.ca]

Viewing the conflict through his Russophobic glasses, Draitser wants what the U.S., NATO and Kyiv want, namely: the subjugation of non-Ukrainian populations under an oppressive rule by a victorious Ukrainian extreme-nationalist regime allied to a triumphant Western imperialism; a military defeat of Russia; and Putin’s replacement by a leadership subservient to the West (or Russia reduced to a failed state similar to the fates of Haiti, Iraq, and Libya). That, according to Draitser, is essential for “how we rebuild our international [anti-imperialist] movement.

Our current task

1. New cold war. Draitser is evidently blind to the fact that the U.S. and its closest allies are using Ukraine as a pawn in their new cold war against Russia. Western imperialism, with hundreds of foreign military bases and aspirations to exercise economic and military domination over every populated continent (and also space), is in conflict with every country (Russia, China, Iran, Syria, DPRK, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, …) which resists its dictates. It targets every such country for containment, subjugation and/or regime change.

2. Russia. We may consider Russia’s military response in Ukraine to be an inappropriate excess or imprudent or both, and we may fault Russian methods in its military operations but, while we may state our disapproving opinions, we have no capacity to influence Russia’s decisions.

3. Task. Our job, as anti-imperialist social-justice activists in the West, is to condemn and vigorously oppose the predatory acts of U.S.-NATO imperialism (including arms to Ukraine and sanctions against Russia) and to press for a negotiated peace. We must expose the falsehoods in the Russophobe war propaganda, and we must persist in supporting the fight against that real imperialist enemy. That is our obligation—even though we will be defamed by some avowed “socialists” as “Putin apologists.”

For additional fact-based analysis, see “Ukraine War, Divided Left: ‘Social Patriots’ and the ‘Anti-Imperialism of Fools’!” by Charles Pierce.

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About the Author


  1. “Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, when Russia had neither been attacked nor remotely threatened with attack, to be what it clearly was, a criminal act, as determined not only by international law but, for what it’s worth, basic human decency. ”
    Completely unrelated to facts. Russia was targeted to be destroyed (Check out threats from USA, France and all their “partners” and of course notice the 2014 actions from Obama’s team and ever since) and any of the Youtube videos showing the Nazi influence in Ukraine over the years. Illegal sanctions for years by the USA/EU (the USA ignores international law) and Russophobic hatred (hardly basic human decency!) hitting all aspects of Russia’s history, culture, religion, achievements -the USSR WON WW2!!!-, art, sport, music) spreading the poison throughout the West via warped media.
    NB I noticed a few years ago how “counterpunch” had changed from a leftist site to one which was often very much Russophobic. I wrote and complained about Matthew Stephenson’s articles but got no reply.

    • I stopped reading counterpunch even earlier due to some very peculiar articles they were publishing and the fact that they refused to publish more of Julian Vigo’s work. The editors began to strike me as a bunch of spoiled, trust-funder white boys who apparently had infrequent contact with the real world and real world problems. Who else would print a piece recommending abolishing the sex offender registries, something women worked very hard to see put in place?

    • You need to learn the difference between facts and conjecture, although you acknowledge that what you are arguing, that “Russia was targeted to be destroyed” is “completely unrelated to facts” even though if Russia did not have its own stockpile of nuclear weapons, it is more than likely it would have happened. Which is why the US and its NATO toadies required Putin to take the initiative and launch what was and remains a war by any other name.

      In 2014, I was still hosting a program on global affairs on the public radio station in my area and exposed the nefarious activities in which the US in the person of Nuland had been engaging, playing on more than one occasion her speech to the Ukrainian-American Assn. in which she bragged about Washington having spent over $5 billion on regime change in Ukraine as well as her conversations with the US ambassador, Pyatt, (apparently taped by the Russians) in which she chose the next authority figure below the president who would take over the government when Yanukovch was ousted.

      I also provided the justification for the annexation of Crimea which would not have happened, I suspect, had Yanukovch been allowed to step down peacefully two months later following an election for a new president as he agreed with the EU to do. That, however, would have interfered with Washington’s second and perhaps primary objective, to rejuvenate NATO the need for which, prior to the Maidan protests, was being questioned by political commentators in the Western media. A peaceful election to elect a new corrupt president for the country would not have forced Putin to act to protect Russia’s only deep water Black Sea port. Preserving NATO and the billions of dollars it brings into the coffers of the US war machine manufacturers, may actually have been at th,

      That a US-sponsored coup took place via the Maidan cannot be questioned but when it took place must not be overlooked. The months of protest, even with the prompting of US NGOS, was a legitimate popular uprising that is beyond the best intel agencies to create. The actual coup, I would argue, was carried out by the neo-Nazis who were pressed by Washington to violently escalate the situation for Yanukovch to the point that he would he would have to flee for his life.

  2. Pierce writes: “We may consider Russia’s military response in Ukraine to be an inappropriate excess or imprudent or both, and we may fault Russian methods in its military operations but, while we may state our disapproving opinions, we have no capacity to influence Russia’s decisions.”

    In other words, those who consider themselves to be anti-imperialist have no right, according to Pierce, to consider Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, when Russia had neither been attacked nor remotely threatened with attack, to be what it clearly was, a criminal act, as determined not only by international law but, for what it’s worth, basic human decency.

    There is only one kind of war that is legitimate and that is of an oppressed people against their oppressor. Russia’s war on Ukraine doesn’t begin to approach that.

    As for the “What about’s?, the sad outrageous fact that the United States, the most malevolent war maker on the planet from, at least, its air force’s incineration of more than 100,000 people of Tokyo in the spring of 1945 through the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions, has been absolved of any criminal liability, let alone guilt feelings on the part of its populace, for its actions, doesn’t make Putin any more or less guilty.

    That Pierce suggests that we limit our “disapproving opinions” of Putin’s actions to such unashamedly liberal and spineless responses such as “inappropriate excess or imprudent” tells us exactly what Pierce is and where he is coming from. Hence it’s not surprising that he finds Benjamin and Davies’ book “excessively moralistic.”

    I have been around and involved in left politics and anti-racist and anti-imperialist activities longer than has Pierce and, I suspect, most of those who agree with him and I have learned a few things that the so-called anti-imperialist left apparently has not. I have also seen and experienced some things in my life that I believe he hasn’t, such as having to run for my life under shelling, having missed by a hair of having been blown to bits by an RPG and viewing the bodies of those who were not so fortunate..

    What people like Pierce and the editors of Covert Action should have done from the beginning of the shooting war was demand negotiations to end it, not take the side of the party that launched it which, from purely a political standpoint, was simply stupid. Publishing the history of US-NATO provocations would have been quite enough.

    While obviously, as Pierce writes, “we have no capacity to influence Russia’s decisions,” is he implying that he and those who think like him or like me or Benjamin and Davies have ANY influence here? At least they are trying.

  3. Most antiwar people are NOT really antiwar, unless they think that politicians are magicians. We expect them to sell the all the grenades, landmines, machine guns, bullets, bombs, rockets, rocket launchers and interceptors, bombing helicopters and drones, tanks, fighter jets, warships and to avoid wars. Nothing more illogical.

    All this will be explained at the all-day London Peace Conference hosted by HUFUD next Saturday, 25th March. All Peace people can participate, for it will be live streamed. Connection link in our website.

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