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Discussion: What stand for socialists on events in Crimea and Ukraine?

Crimeans vote in the referendum on the region's political future.

Click HERE for more on Ukraine.

By Roger Annis

March 18, 2014 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Two distinct views on the left have emerged to describe the political upheaval that has shaken Ukraine and Crimea in recent months. On February 21, the government of President Victor Yanukovych was overthrown and replaced by a pro-western government in which extreme rightists have a prominent place.

One view describes the political intervention of the US and other NATO countries in favour of regime change as playing a decisive role. So much so that the mass protests against the Yanukovych government are denied any popular and social legitimacy. Russia’s role in events is viewed uncritically.

An opposing view posits that two more-or-less equal imperialist camps are jockeying for domination and control—the US, Europe, Canada and their NATO military alliance on one side, and Russia on the other. Both sides are equally condemned. Curiously, this view is also giving short shrift to examining the precise goals and achievements of the protest movement of Ukrainians that rocked the country for months.

The former view is closer to the reality. The NATO countries pressed very hard for regime change and they were rewarded in their efforts. They have considerable influence on the political changes in Ukraine. The country is further under their domination and their threat to Russia is heightened. For these reasons, their intervention should be condemned.

That said, we gain nothing by turning a blind eye to the imperial ambitions of the governing regime in Russia. And much of the protest movement in Ukraine has worthy ambitions that should be appreciated and respected. To fully understand events and elaborate a guide to action in the face of escalating NATO threats, more detail and nuance is required in our analysis. I hope this commentary may contribute to that.

A threatening and aggressive NATO alliance

Canadian Marxist and historian of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, David Mandel, has published a very informative commentary on the present crisis. He provides a balanced and factual description of the differing class forces and interests at play. The full article is at http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/948.php.

Mandel writes in his concluding section:

The Russian government no doubt sees what has happened as another step in the longstanding policy of the US and NATO to contain Russia's influence to her own borders...

I think we can state the matter more sharply. Past and present imperialist policy towards the countries and republics of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union has been about more than containment. The ultimate goal has been to destroy their nationalised economies and restore naked capitalist rule.

The imperialists achieved considerable success in their ambitions. The blind laws and imperatives that power international capitalism proved much stronger than the nationalised but bureaucratised economies, which were ultimately overwhelmed. The big capitalist countries brought much of the former Eastern Europe directly into their economic and military fold, destroying a large part of the prevailing welfare state provisions and drastically reduced the living standards of the working classes. The deformed and bureaucratised economies were unable, in the end, to resist capitalist penetration because that would have required a democratisation of planning and government institutions coupled with massive popular mobilisations to implement the decisions of new, institutional foundations.*

In Russia and its bordering republics, capitalism was recreated in a hybrid form where the state retains a considerable role in economic planning and policy making. The imperialists were unable to make the transformed country into an exclusive domain. That eluded their grasp. Russia remained an independent political and economic entity, and a powerful one to boot.

Russia’s independence, and that of other rising capitalist powers such as China and Brazil, is of considerable political consequence for the international working class. The frictions and conflicts between competing capitalist blocs create political and economic fissures through which peoples and countries can assert and defend their independent interests. This is most evident in Latin America, where US hegemony is in sharp decline. Progressive and revolutionary governments have come to power. They have been able to avoid the crushing economic isolation and embargos that made socialist development so difficult in the early Soviet Union and later in Cuba.

A very symbolic indicator of a progressively changing world is the political asylum that Edward Snowden has obtained in Russia. Moscow has rebuffed extraordinary political pressure from the US and Europe to turn Snowden over for jailing and a show trial. He continues to issue damning revelations of the violent and illegal ways in which the imperialists run the world.

Russians have lots of reasons to be concerned about the threat of imperialist encirclement and intervention. They lived two terrible experiences in the past century -- first the military intervention of 1918-21 that sought to overthrow the revolution of 1917 through civil war; and then the cataclysmic invasion and occupation of the western regions of the Soviet Union, including Ukraine and Crimea, by Nazi Germany in 1941-44. Those two gruesome attacks were followed by the encirclement and threats of nuclear attack by NATO countries during the long decades of the Cold War.

The threats and menacing encirclement have continued since the fall of the Soviet Union, including in violation of political agreements where NATO countries pledged not expand their military alliance eastward.

Crimea

Mandel’s article comments only briefly on the situation in Crimea. The region has become the key flashpoint in the present situation. He calls Russia's intervention "pursuing primarily symbolic goals". I concur with the suggestion here that Russia’s Crimea intervention is a defensive act imposed by the aggressive imperialist intervention in Ukraine. Mandel writes further that Russia's act sends a message to the rightist government in Kiev “not to get carried away”.

Yes, one can identify all kinds of blundering and rights violations by Russia’s Crimea intervention. It is not a liberation. Russia is an authoritarian capitalist state with imperialist ambitions in its own right. All this is important to explain. But Russia is acting first and foremost in response to aggression from the US/Europe/NATO alliance and from the new government that has come to power in Ukraine. Another way to view matters is to ask if Russia would be promoting Crimea secession and joining the Russian Federation if it was not being threatened by the NATO countries’ incursions into Ukraine? I think not.

Two equal imperialist camps?

Many writers (not David Mandel) are equating Russia’s interests and actions with those of the NATO countries. Some go so far as to compare Russia's intervention in Crimea, where not a single life has been lost to date, to the “shock and awe” of imperialism in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere that killed tens of thousands and destroyed entire countries.

We’ll never get to a thorough discussion and understanding of Russia’s motives in Crimea if we make simplistic comparisons of the two big-power sides. We need a dynamic analysis of the evolving geopolitical alliances in the region and the rival national, capitalist and imperialist interests at play, not phrases and slogans. For starters, this should easily tell us who are the greater aggressors (US and NATO) and who are the lesser (Russia) in the present conflict over Ukraine.

Furthermore, as a recent article by UK writer and activist Chris Bambury reminds those of us in Europe and North America, “Here in the West, we should concentrate our fire on [NATO].”

There are some useful historical analogies to the Ukraine situation, all proportions guarded, to which we can turn to help us appreciate the importance of distinguishing degrees of threat by the class enemy.

Three decades ago, a military regime was in power in Argentina and it made a stupid and blundering grab to retake the Malvinas (Falklands) Islands from the colonial power Britain. The generals’ grab was an effort to stem rising domestic protests against its rule. Britain responded with a naval assault to retake its colony. Progressives throughout the world responded by condemning and protesting the British action. They said that whatever the blunders and intentions of the Argentine dictators, the overriding concern should be opposition to yet another neo-colonial adventure by one of world’s big imperialist powers.

Just a few years before that, in 1980, Iraq launched an invasion of Iran. At the time, Iran’s anti-Shah revolution of 1979 had been blocked and pushed back by the Iranian bourgeoisie and a reactionary, clerical political leadership. The Iranian masses correctly perceived that behind the Iraqi move was the hand of imperialism aiming to restore a version of the dictatorship they had overthrown with so much heroism and sacrifice the year before. The invasion was a deadly threat to their country’s independence and to the further advance of a social revolution.

Accordingly, a large part of the Iranian population rallied to defend their country.

But large sections of Iranian radicals reacted otherwise. They had fiercely resisted the clerical regime that was using force and violence to halt any further revolutionary advance. So they declared a plague on both houses—the Iraqi invaders and the Iranian governing regime. In so doing, they lost credibility among much of the population and weakened the fight against the counter-revolution of the Iranian bourgeoisie and clerical leaders that was in full swing at the time of the Iraqi invasion. They never recovered from the loss of influence caused by their disastrous stand.

Today’s Russia is a rising imperialist country and thus quite different from the Argentina and Iran of 30 years ago. Its governing regime and capitalist class are a considerable threat to its own peoples and those of its neighbouring republics. But Russia is a weaker power compared to its rivals in the West. The workers of Russia or anywhere else in the world gain nothing from the drive of the larger rivals of capitalist Russia to weaken it or overthrow its government.

A recent editorial by the International Socialist Organisation in the US concludes:

During the Cold War between the ex-USSR and the U.S., Socialist Worker had a slogan that encapsulated our rejection of both superpower camps. That slogan is relevant again today: Neither Washington nor Moscow, neither Kiev nor Simferopol, but international socialism.

Let us think back to the era cited in this statement. Washington and its allies waged near-genocidal wars against the people of Korea during the 1950s and the people of Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s. They threatened nuclear attack on many countries during the Cold War years. There is little doubt they would have repeated the use of nuclear weapons unleashed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki had the Soviet Union and then China not developed their own nuclear arsenals.

As to Soviet Union as a “superpower”, its ruling elite proved considerably weaker and more vulnerable to overthrow than the imperialist ruling classes. Their post-World War II crimes do not compare to those of the US and Europe.

The ISO view of Ukraine today is abstracted from the living situation. That’s a recipe for wrong conclusions. One imperialist camp has conspired to encourage and facilitate the overthrow of an elected government and replace it with a more right-wing government ever more subordinate to NATO-country imperial interests. Rightists, fascists and billionaires have been appointed to important ministerial and other posts. They openly advocate aggression against Russia and against Russian-speaking people living in Ukraine, including regressively changing Ukraine’s official language policy from a tolerant bilingualism to a reactionary unilingualism.

(An excellent, two-part interview with Pers Anders Rudling of Sweden describes the history of right-wing nationalism in Ukraine. It was broadcast on The Real News Network and can be accessed here: Part one and Part two.)

The politics of “neither nor” third campism has a failed history that we should avoid replicating today. Its most lamentable expression was at the outset of World War II, when in 1941 German imperialism launched a horrendous military offensive against the peoples of the Soviet Union that ended in the deaths of tens of millions of Soviet workers and peasants and millions of German workers in uniform. Entire regions, including Ukraine, Crimea and western Russia, were obliterated by the German invaders and occupiers.

Even if the Soviet Union had by then evolved entirely away from its socialist origin into some kind of “state capitalist” system (which I do not believe was the case), it was incumbent on the working-class movement internationally to oppose the Nazi aggression, just as Japan’s parallel assaults on China and Southeast Asia had to be opposed.

A correct approach to the present conflict in Ukraine is to see that both Ukraine and Russia are under attack by European and North America (and probably Japanese) imperialism. The international left should oppose this aggression, including how it threatens the autonomous status of Crimea (where the legitimacy of Ukraine’s historic claim is less than that of Russia, including by virtue of the March 16, 2014 referendum vote).

A progressive government in Russia would offer political and material solidarity to the people of Crimea as their autonomy comes under attack by the rightist government in Kiev and its NATO backers. It would pledge support to Crimea’s autonomy and to Ukraine’s independence. It wouldn’t rush into a referendum on less than two weeks’ notice nor deny a ballot option to maintain the autonomous status quo with Ukraine. All of this would better enable it to defend its own borders and its military installations in Crimea (which Ukraine is bound by treaty to respect).

The fact that Russia is hiding its intentions and shrouding them in obfuscation complicates matters. That should be exposed and criticised. But it shouldn’t cause the international left to lose all sense of proportion and balance. The NATO countries are the key aggressors here and should be condemned for escalating tensions and manipulating and derailing the legitimate protests of Ukrainians (and Russians) against their pro-capitalist governments and policies.

Such an approach could help strengthen the working class and pro-democracy forces that propelled so much of the recent protest movement in Ukraine. It would help weaken the political right in Ukraine and its allies abroad that have cynically and hypocritically laid claim to the progressive aims of so many of the protesters.

* * *

Some voices from Crimea

On the March 17 broadcast of CBC Radio One’s The Current, a teacher in Crimea, Yulia Dorogan, explains why she and so many others voted in the March 16 referendum to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. Oleg Smirnov, a professor of communication and journalism at Taurida National University in Simferopol, tells the program why he considers the referendum to be illegal. He is cautiously optimistic there will be no civil strife resulting from the vote.

[* Capitalism rules by the whip, including the ever-present concern of workers of unemployment and destitution. Its constant revolutionising of production and technology is driven by the dog-eat-dog world of competition and profit. Socialism posits entirely different imperatives for the development of society--social justice and egalitarianism. But without citizen engagement and inspiration at its core, socialised economies stagnate and lose the technological and cultural battle for innovation with the old capitalist order. Economic compulsion has a role to play in a socialist transition process, but it cannot be a driving force. Citizen engagement and the realisation of the creative potential of every human being must be at the heart of the socialist project.]

 

Comments

Geopolitical chess games

Russia’s independence, and that of other rising capitalist powers such as China and Brazil, is of considerable political consequence for the international working class.

---

Sad to see a long-time Marxist echo the nonsense at Global Research, the PSL and countless other pro-BRICS websites and magazines.

Ukraine – the Russians are the aggressors

March 24, 2014 8:36 pm

The Russian seizure of Crimea has sharply divided opinion on the British left writes Liam Mac Uaid. On one side No2EU is saying:

“The European Commission will officially hand over €1.1 billion this week to far right coup leaders in Kiev that removed the elected government with street violence.

US secretary of state John Kerry also said on a visit to Kiev this week that Washington will add $1 billion into the pot to shore up fascist rule.”

A less shrill echo of this view is offered by the Stop The War Coalition which prominently features an article by Eamonn McCann in which he sets out their stall. “In the game of Great Power politics, if we have to pick a side over Crimea, let it be Russia.” Counterfire have republished the same article along with one by Chris Nineham which argues that the strategic issue is that “Nato and EU expansion in the last two decades has dismantled Russia’s traditional buffer zone.” From this he also concludes that we have to back Russia.

We can speculate that some around No2EU see Putin’s Russia as being, in some distorted way, the heir to socialist bulwark that the Soviet Union once was in their eyes. For people from the SWP tradition this isn’t the case and their rationale is that as socialists in the European Union and (EU) their main responsibility is to oppose NATO and the EU.

Self evidently if the EU or NATO were to start making claims on Russian territory we would oppose that. It is also obvious that the land seizures so far have all been initiated by Russia, which stage managed a flagrantly ridiculous referendum and used the result to seize Crimea. Russia was the aggressor. It violated Ukraine’s national sovereignty.

The movement that brought down the Yanukovich regime was contradictory. It could hardly have been otherwise in a society run by gangster capitalists who atomised mass consciousness and ran political parties as means of sharing the spoils between competing groups of oligarchs. An issue of serious concern has been the presence of the far right both in the mass movement and the newly formed government. We’ll set aside for a moment the widespread presence of the far right in Putin’s Russia. Ukraine has a specific history which has left a legacy of a deep antipathy to everything tainted by the Soviet Union. The famine Stalin inflicted on Ukraine in 1932-3 (which was covered up by many socialists at the time) is estimated to have killed 7.5 million people. Many Ukrainians interpret it as a deliberate act of genocide by the Moscow regime. It is inevitable that a national trauma on that scale will affect the way people view history. It goes some way to explaining why anti-Soviet rhetoric has such an appeal and the far right has successfully exploited the memory of that Stalinist crime.

Revolutionary content

However, socialist participants in the events, such as Ilya Boudraïtksis of “Vpered” (“Forward”), Russian section of the Fourth International saw the mass movement as containing the germs of a revolutionary process:

“…each element of which breathes an authentic revolutionary consciousness, painted in some strange, unusual colour – a kaleidoscope of propaganda from every possible ultra-right-wing party and sect, with countless “Celtic” symbols and runes on the walls. The incredibly sickening dissonance between the revolutionary content of the process and its reactionary form represents circumstances demanding not squeamish ethical evaluations, but action aimed at changing such an ugly equation.”

This ideological confusion is the fruit of a society in which independent working class consciousness was suppressed for decades by a bureaucracy which claimed to rule in the name of that class. The thieving oligarchy, which apologists like George Galloway refer to as the overthrown government, viewed the state as a treasury to be plundered. As a result mass consciousness has been evolving rapidly from a primordial swamp of old prejudices, half remembered ideas and glimpses of the outside world.

For many Ukrainians all that is good about the outside world is represented by the European Union. From their point of view, and that’s what matters here, joining the EU means that they might have a chance to get a job in England, Germany or Belgium. In a country in which virtually every transaction between a citizen and the state means paying a bribe, the EU can seem like a corruption free paradise. Singing a song which mocks the government doesn’t get you thrown in jail. The Sex Pistols weren’t sent to a labour camp outside Birmingham for singing God Save the Queen. Contrast that with Putin’s treatment of Pussy Riot. Who wouldn’t choose to live in a society like Denmark when the option on offer is living in a client of Putin’s Russia?

Analogies

Putin’s strategy is to gouge out chunks of Ukrainian territory. He started with Crimea. That is roughly analogous to the north of Ireland. The British state has used the presence of a Protestant population which is opposed to a united Ireland to claim sovereignty over Irish territory. Another analogy is the Israeli state. There, a settler population displaced the original inhabitants and denied them the right to a Palestinian state. Stalin’s tactics in Crimea were not too different from those of the Israeli state’s founders. He deported almost 200 000 Crimean Tatars and filled the gap with ethnic Russians. Putin is planning to use the presence of Russian speakers in other parts of Ukrainian territory to annex them. This has even worried Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko. According to The Moscow Times he criticised Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea as setting a “bad precedent.” Even Putin’s friends in the region are twitchy now.

Current polls say that the chief Russian kleptocrat is enjoying a burst of popularity as a consequence of his aggression against Ukraine. The same thing happened when he invaded Chechnya and flattened Grozny, turning the country into what the murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya called “a small corner of hell”. Putin and his cronies must have been terrified when they saw the people take to the streets against Yanukovich. If it could happen in Kiev it could happen in Moscow or Saint Petersburg. His aggression on Ukraine served the double purpose of intimidating the mass movement there and showing any Russians inclined to imitate it what they might expect. It was a real source of optimism that 50 000 people took to the streets of Moscow to protest against their own state’s aggression, an event that went unremarked by the British Stop the War Coalition.

Saying that we are against the Russian seizure of Ukrainian territory does not for one moment imply that we defend the new government in Kiev. Like the old one, it is largely comprised of robber oligarchs and now includes a significant far right presence. That does not make it a fascist government. We are on the side of the Russian anti-war protestors and the multi-ethnic thousands who took to the streets of Ukraine’s cities demanding an end to corruption, the plundering of state assets and cops who were indistinguishable from criminals. A defeat for Russian imperialism in Ukraine is both a victory for that mass movement and the Russian working class. Socialists in imperialist countries should see their primary responsibility as establishing links and building support for those groups in Ukrainian and Russian society which are opposing the oligarchs and organising a real movement against them. That is rather different from helping Putin hold on to power by annexing his own imperialist “buffer zone”.

Nothing progressive about the Putin government's action

Roger's article is a big step forward for the discussion. I want to make a
few comments on aspects of the issue.

I agree with Roger that the Russian government's actions have
been defensive. They are defending both their own borders and their sphere
of influence from a US-EU offensive that threatens both. The imperialists
have held all the offensive cards in the relationship with Russia since the
decay and disintegration of the workers state began to accelerate in the
late Brezhnev era.

I agree with Roger that Russia is not an imperialist power, but is resisting
reduction to a semicolonial status, and that the maintenance of Russia's
relative independence is something that is positive for the working class
and oppressed of the world (including, in fact, the Ukrainian nation).
Having and defending an economic and political sphere of influence does not
make a state imperialist. Otherwise, every capitalist state of any strength
would be an imperialist power.

However, revolutionary socialists do not (or should not, judge conflicts
primarily by who is the aggressor and who is on the defensive. Nor can we
assume that the way a capitalist state defends itself from imperialism
should be supported or even defended.

I cannot find anything whatever progressive about the Putin government's
action in severing the Crimea from the Ukraine, regardless of the
preferences of the Russian residents. (I imagine that if Quebec became
independent, we would be opposed to Canada seizing predominantly Anglophone
areas, regardless of popular opinion among the Anglophones).

The Russian action has done nothing to halt the consolidation of imperialist
positions in western Ukraine, which is taking place. Quite the contrary.

It has given Washington valuable openings to step up aggression in the
region and, while the US rulers have wisely decided to avoid any wild
adventurism, we can be sure they are taking more careful advantage of these.

This whole process has been a catastrophic setback for Ukrainian
independence and sovereigntyd, threatening to tear the country in three
parts, with the Russophone Ukrainians intimidated into a de facto
independence of their own or joining Russia. The course of the reactionary
leadership in the west is certainly demonstrating the ruinous character of
what I termed the Russophobic line of march to national liberation of
Ukraine. This is the idea that the independence of Ukraine must be measured
by its hostility to Russia and Russians -- the more hostile, the more
independent.

Of course, the reactionaries who have won control of west Ukraine may not
much care what happens to the rest of the country for now, all they may also
decide for now to live and let live for the time being with the frightened
Russophones in the east. They have their base for a client regime of the
Euro-American imperialist powers, and they can hope ultimately to retake the
sections that did not go along in a future final conflict between the West
and Russia.

An historic blow to the Ukrainian people is being struck, bringing to mind
previous divisions between Russian czarism and Austria-Hungary or Russia,
Poland, and Czechslovakia. As far as I can see, the US and allies have no
reason to be dissatisfied with the situation that has taken shape. They are
gaining ground.

An important factor in this setback is that the working class as a class and
its organizations and demands seem to have had no political weight in this
conflict. Of course, many workers have participated mostly on the basis of
language and region, but, as far as I can tell, they have played no
independent role but have divided along regional and language lines.

As an aside, have people noticed that the SWP-USA's Militant has been on a
Russophobic bender about Ukraine. They cite the fact that they are many
Russian speakers in the country as proof that the country's "formal
independence" is a sham and that Ukraine has been a semicolony.

I wonder if a Ukrainian government along SWP lines would permit people to be
fluent in both languages (as I am sure many are) or whether that would be
considered an intolerable concession to what they are fond of calling "the
Russian boot."

Descent of the Ukraine region into this abyss

Roger seems to me to have the character of the Russian state correct when he observes:

"Today's Russia is a rising imperialist country... Its governing regime and capitalist class are a considerable threat to its own peoples and those of its neighbouring republics."

But we should be equally mindful of his qualifier:

"Russia is a weaker power compared to its rivals in the West. The workers of Russia or anywhere else in the world gain nothing from the drive of the larger rivals of capitalist Russia to weaken it or overthrow its government."

Putin would no doubt argue that his defiance of NATO and the EU over Crimea represents a successful blow against the world's largest and most aggressive capitalist blocs, and that as well as defending Russian national interests, it is thus liberating and progressive. Indeed, the swift excision of the former Ukrainian province - a move to which NATO and the EU have so far been unable to respond with more than symbolic acts - will have reminded the far-right nationalists in Kyiv of the folly of overplaying their hand.

Specifically, the Russian president can also argue that his actions allowed Crimea's population to exercise their right to self-determination. Unlike Ukraine's eastern provinces, Crimea has never had an ethnic Ukrainian majority, and can't be regarded as part of the historical Ukraine. The argument that Ukraine acquired a right to the territory when Khrushchev gifted Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Republic in 1954 (in violation of the Soviet constitution, and to aid his manoeuvrings in the Politburo) is simply head-exploding.

While the Crimean provincial authorities clearly stuffed the ballot-boxes during the March 16 referendum, there are good reasons to conclude that an honest poll would also have yielded a majority, probably a large one, for integration into Russia. There's not much appetite in Crimea for rule by anti-Russian xenophobes.

Fred, however, is also correct when he argues:

"The Russian action has done nothing to halt the consolidation of imperialist
positions in western Ukraine... It has given Washington valuable openings to step up aggression in the region..."

We should not doubt that Putin's course was carefully plotted. It correctly appraised the few, rather limp options available in the short term to the Western imperialist powers. But in no way did his moves have an overall progressive thrust. They were calculated to serve his domestic political ends as a right-wing populist leader playing to a chauvinist constituency. On this level, Putin's actions seem to have been successful; at any rate, the jingoism of the Russian popular press in the past few weeks has been blood-curdling.

Still, and as Fred suggests, Putin in broader strategic terms paid a high cost for his domestic gains. When he moved Russian forces out of the Sevastopol enclave, and had them take up positions around Crimea, he handed the Western imperialists an excuse to pose as defenders of international law and Ukrainian national rights. Attention was diverted from the seizure of the "power ministries" in Kyiv by proto-fascists, and from the threat thus presented to ethnic Russians throughout Ukraine.

Worse, Putin's flouting of Ukrainian sovereignty in Crimea was quite unnecessary. Opponents of Ukrainian nationalism controlled the Crimean parliament, and there's every sign that the people of the province would have rallied to defy any move by the new Kyiv government to impose its authority over the territory. Ukraine's armed forces are in a decrepit state, and the bankrupt Kyiv government had little effective ability to impose its will in Crimea, especially since military action against the Crimeans would have told heavily on Kyiv's control over Ukraine's Russian-speaking eastern and southern provinces.

All Putin needed to do, in short, was to hold off and let the situation develop. But the Russian president has no use for successful mass-based separatist movements.

The "loss" of Crimea has enraged Ukrainian nationalist opinion, and there seems no doubt that one or another dogmatic representative of the neoliberal right will win the May presidential elections. The economic "association" of Ukraine with the EU will then go ahead.

For Ukrainians to pursue this "association" is astoundingly wrong-headed. Formerly one of the most developed and prosperous regions of the USSR, Ukraine remains tightly integrated with Russian industry down to the level of individual firms. Industrial processes and technical standards are aligned with those of Russia, and countless enterprises depend on materials and components from across the border. This is especially true of the east - Kharkiv and the "Ukrainian Donbass" provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk. Most of Ukraine's heavy industry is located in these areas.

In recent years, Ukraine has conducted about 60% of its foreign trade with other countries of the former USSR. Economic integration with the EU will force the severing of many of these links, and make numerous Ukrainian enterprises unviable. Meanwhile, the reorienting of Ukraine's economic links toward the EU will place the country's foreign trade as a whole on a dramatically less advantageous footing.

The dropping of trade barriers with the EU is predicted to aid Ukrainian exports of minerals and agricultural produce, but these commodities no longer figure heavily in Ukraine's trade offerings. Most of Ukraine's exports consist of industrial products, and in this area, the country has traded with other parts of the former USSR on the basis of a level of technological development that is comparable or superior.

Ukraine's industrial products, though, will have great trouble competing in the West. Meanwhile, free trade with the EU will mean the flooding of Ukraine's domestic markets with imported products that are on a higher level of quality and sophistication, and that may well be cheaper too.

These consequences alone of the shift toward the EU will be catastrophic for many Ukrainians, with numerous enterprises shutting down and large numbers of people thrown out of work. But accompanying these changes will be increased subjection to the depredations of Western financial institutions, and the results of this are likely to be even worse.

Ukraine is in acute need of as much as $25 billion in emergency loans. With the overthrow of Yanukovich, these requirements are now to be met by the IMF. While the terms of the projected lending remain undisclosed, it's no particular secret that they include Greek-style austerity, with large-scale culling of public employees, cuts to pensions and social services, and big rises in utility charges. Existing plans for privatisation of the remaining public sector (currently at about 37% of GDP) will be ruthlessly enforced.

For the mass of Ukrainians, the future is one of economic immolation. Hopes of EU investment reviving industry will almost always prove false. Numerous enterprises will be bought up by EU interests, shut down, and their equipment sold for scrap. The country will be extensively de-industrialised, and turned into an agricultural appendage of Western European capital. In winter, millions of people will face a choice between starving and freezing.

These prospects loom in a context in which Ukraine is already among the worst basket-cases of the post-Soviet expanse. According to data from the Economist, real Ukrainian GDP per capita (at PPP) in 2013 stood at no more than about 45% of the level in 1992; the cost of weakening the economic nexus with other parts of the former Soviet Union has already been high. The same set of statistics shows the figure for Russia at about 130%, and for Belarus at 260%. Belarus, unlike Ukraine, has rejected neoliberal advice and kept Western financiers mostly at bay. The bulk of large-scale industry in Belarus remains state-owned, and integration with the Russian economy has been preserved and built upon.

Politically, what might lie ahead for Ukraine? Until now, the Ukrainian right has been buoyed by the hope of rescue by the EU, once Russia-lovers and Soviet holdovers have been neutralised. The "rescue", however, will soon prove much worse than the dilemma it is supposed to cure. In any foreseeable circumstances, the upshot won't be a shift to the left, whose parties in Ukraine are tiny and ideologically primitive. Instead, the likely result of the loss of hope will be that large elements of a declassed, socially atomised population will sink into demoralisation and anomie.

As the darkness thickens, the real monsters will emerge, on the look-out for Russian-speakers, Jews and leftists. I find it hard to imagine that large numbers of Ukrainian nationalists and even liberals, kicked in the teeth by the EU that was supposed to bring them civilised values and the rule of law, won't move in a fascist direction. I'd expect the chief targets of the cult of violence to be the Russian ethnic minority, blamed for the catastrophe and conflated with anyone whose native tongue isn't obviously Ukrainian.

That implies the fracturing of Ukraine along ethno-linguistic lines, with the east and south splitting away. It's not difficult to foresee a rump Ukraine of the central and western provinces - landlocked, impoverished, with little industry, under a psychotic right-wing regime...and in NATO. Fred's warnings apply again.

The descent of the region into this abyss will, I suspect, keep us preoccupied for years to come. On the whole, the mayhem won't be Putin's fault. But it's Putin, and Russia, that the mainstream Western media can be relied upon to blame.

Excellent analysis, but ...

Two points: 1) It seems by and large that the Crimean people did rise up and declare independence against the Ukraine's coup-installed government. They then chose to unite with Russia, as is any independent nation's right. In other words, Crimea did exactly what you thought they would naturally do, but at an understandably accelerated pace. I understand that what went on in Crimea immediately after the Kiev coup is not clear, but it seems to me the revolution in Crimea was by and large by the Crimean people, and an overwhelmingly popular one. Yes, Putin moved forces into defensive positions around Russian and some Ukrainian military facilities, but 'indigenous' Crimean self-defense forces -- forces that had stripped off the Ukraine affiliations from their uniforms -- were also doing similar and securing government buildings. Let's be careful about allowing the Western imperial media's 'reporting' influence our renditions of the Crimean 'facts'.

2) "On the whole, the mayhem won't be Putin's fault. But it's Putin, and Russia, that the mainstream Western media can be relied upon to blame." It's not possible for the mainstream Western media to do it any other way. I think Putin understands very well how hopelessly foolish to modify policy one iota in order to 'play' to the Western media, in the hope it will report honestly on Ukraine or Russia in general. Loyalty and career lines have been drawn, and the West's imperial media is worse now than it was during the run up to the Iraq war. Putin just has to deal as best he can, as do we, with the inevitably demonizing coverage.

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