• Alberto Ugarte Ortega

Social movements: Ukraine’s last resistance

Alberto Ugarte Ortega*


In February 2022, the international community was shocked by the escalation of violence and military aggressions in the border between Russia and Ukraine. The aggressive unilateralism behind Russia’s interests to control its former Soviet space has revitalised the debate about the protection of democracy, respect of human rights, and the importance of international law. As history shows, Russian military expansionism in the region is not new. Back in 2008, the Georgian – Russian conflicts shed light on Vladimir Putin nostalgic interest to rebuild “Great Russia” at any cost. Even though Putin’s regime has been keen to shout down domestic protest and political opposition towards his actions in the past weeks, the anti-war global movement around the world shows that Moscow’s war appetite will find social resistance at home and abroad.


Starting in the 1970’s, the US and Europe experienced a first wage of social movements against war. Such pacifist movement had repercussions on how foreign policy was conducted and how decision makers legitimized their hostile actions against other states. By the same token, between 1960 and 1970 the anti-war social movements evolved and reframed other grievances in the US society, which showed that social movements during war time are crucial when it comes to regulate how states behave in the international system. Moreover, it proves that social movements are as Charly Tilly asserts powerful forces that shaped democratic societies and revendicated social inequalities in the 20th century.


Yet, the annexation of the entire territory of Ukraine seems plausible due to the military asymmetry between the actors involved, it is critical to underline the importance of social movements against the invasion and their capacity to unite people in a last resistance against Vladimir Putin unilateralism. As President Volodymyr Zelensky leads the battlefront, anti-war protests increased in and outside Ukraine. According to Aljazeera anti-war mapping database, protests in Paris, London, New York, Madrid are spreading rapidly to show solidarity to the Ukrainian people. Likewise, Russia has seen protests in nearly 55 cities across the country, which represented an increase of political detentions in cities such as St. Peterburg and Moscow.


A possible explanation about the escalation of protests and social movements in favour of peace and democracy can be found in the structural strain theory proposed by Smelser in 1965. Such theory provides a set of six factors that need to coexist within the grow of social movements. These six factors are:

i. Society recognizes a perpetuator. (foreign aggressions)

ii. Ideological values are shared among members of the movement.

iii. Society experiences shocking events that transformed social life.

iv. Social mobilization.

v. Resources are assigned to the movement.

vi. Deprivation of political rights or resources.

Over the past two years, Russia has faced prodemocracy protests. Commentators in Russia have highlighted that Russian civil society is weaking up to find solutions to a long history of antidemocratic practices linked to the political grievances done by the Russian state. Meanwhile, Russia’s efforts to erase political opposition is a matter of national security, protesters across the country are demanding political change and democracy.

Even though, the Kremlin rhetoric aims to boost ethnic nationalism among certain groups in the Russian society, the invasion of Ukraine jeopardized the regime legitimacy to declare an unnecessary war that might be too costly for Russian middle-class people. A report by Vera Bergerngruen in Time magazine portrays Russia’s deepest fears about social movements and activists. Based on a cross data analysis, Vera tracked down a Russian global campaign to obliterate pro-democracy groups on social media and spread fake news about Ukraine’s president efforts to protect his country. Russia’s psychological war methods were targeting protests outside its borders by discouraging people’s hope for democracy and peace in what he has label as a routine military action to protect Russia’s borders.

In this sense, the structural strain theory provides an appropriate analytical tool to understand the importance of social movements during war time. More specifically, it shows that Ukraine resistance might be based on a global scale social movement that aims to protect Ukraine sovereignty amid the expansionist policies of a great power. The global social movement against the war in Ukraine are united by the respect for democracy, human rights, and self-determination. As the violence continues, Russia would find a solid resistance coming from an international social movement that has the power to influence decision makers and global institutions towards the use of harder sanctions against Russia.



*Colaboró en varios grupos de investigación en México y Estados Unidos. En 2013 contribuyó al Whitney and Betty MacMillan Centre for International Studies de la Universidad de Yale con varias publicaciones sobre política exterior y geopolítica en América del Norte.En 2017,se graduó con honores de la Maestría en Relaciones Internacionales de la Universidad Centroeuropea y en 2019, concluyó con distinción una Maestría en Ciencias en Nacionalismo y Conflicto Étnico en el Birkbeck College, Universidad de Londres.





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APA 7: Ugarte, A. (2022,Febrero 28).Social movements: Ukraine’s last resistance. Global Lens.


MLA 8: Ugarte, A. “Social movements: Ukraine’s last resistance” Global Lens, 28 Febrero, 2022.


Chicago: Ugarte, A. “Social movements: Ukraine’s last resistance” Global Lens, 28 Febrero .