Barry Sheppard: Some comments on the debate around Ukraine

Image removed.

An unguided Ukrainian government Grad rocket hit the house of Valentina Fedorovna, 77, in the Kuibyshivskyi district in Donetsk on July 19, 2014. Photo by Human Rights Watch.

Read more on the situation in Ukraine HERE.

By Barry Sheppard

July 28, 2014 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- It is clear that people who consider themselves to be some form of revolutionary socialist do not agree on the facts about Ukraine. We do not even have agreement on whether or not Russia is imperialist, or even what the word means.

I would urge caution and patience in assessing the current situation.

But here is my take in a nutshell of what I think are the facts, culled from various sources.

The Maidan demonstrations were originally sparked by opposition to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich's rejection of the European Union's austerity conditions for financial aid and his acceptance of Russia's better offer. Maidan grew as Yanukovich unleashed massive repression, with laws and violence. In the physical fight with the police, far-right Right Sector armed groups were in the lead, as could be seen when they took over a government building (city hall?) and erected flags with their modified swastika and the flag of the American Confederacy, and when they beat up leftists trying to join the demonstration.

The main  participants of Maidan were not Right Sector, but at no time disassociated from it. They were however, anti-Russian. When the main oligarchs of Ukraine turned against Yanukovich (himself one of them), he was forced to flee. A right-wing government (not fascist but including fascists) was formed. Key posts were given to Svoboda, which has a fascist past and has called for Ukraine to be a white, Christian nation (perhaps that is on the back burner right now) and this sentiment is widespread in western Ukraine.

Maidan has won its main demand, as the new rightist government in Kiev has accepted the EU's austerity program.

In the 2004-2005 “Orange Revolution” ( the desire for Ukraine to become part of NATO was proclaimed. While that government went down in the flames of corruption, the emergence of a new rightist (many bourgeois analysts say the most right wing in Europe) government in Kiev, Russia correctly assumed that this new government would take control of Russia's naval base in Crimea, its only warm water base, and would start down the path of joining NATO, turning that base over to NATO. That was the reason for Russia's annexation of Crimea.

I am against any demand for Russia to "return" Crimea to Ukraine. Those (including US President Barack Obama) who raise this demand base it on a legality, that then premier of the USSR Khrushchev (himself Ukrainian) shifted Crimea from the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic to the Ukraine SSR, not much of a change since Crimea and the USSR's naval base (it wasn’t a Russian SSR base) remained in the USSR. This was done likely for technical reasons having to do with the USSR building better infrastructure between Ukraine and Crimea. I find it ironic that Obama and other Western powers look to a technical edict by a Soviet premier for justification of their position. It is even odder to me that many leftists, who didn’t support most edicts of Soviet premiers, do so.

When Ukraine won independence (in 1991 or so), Ukraine agreed that the naval base in Crimea would be turned over to the Russian Federation. At that point, Russia had no objection to the rest of Crimea remaining Ukrainian. That agreement was effectively nullified when the new openly anti-Russian government took power, and the Russians swiftly acted.

Ukraine was a major battlefield during the civil war following the Russian Revolution. When Ukraine was incorporated into the USSR, it was as an independent Soviet Socialist Republic, under the Bolshevik's policy of national self-determination of the oppressed nationalities under the former heel of tsarism. Crimea became part of the Russian SSR because it was predominately Russian, and had been by the mid 1800s, after it was captured earlier from the Ottoman Empire by Catherine the Great. (The Crimean War was waged 1853-1856 by France, Britain, the Ottoman Empire and Sardinia against Russia, not Ukraine, which didn’t yet exist.) At the same time, the Crimean Tatars were given self-rule as an autonomous region.

As we know, the Stalinist counter-revolution reversed Bolshevik policy on this and many other questions, and re-instituted Great Russian chauvinism.

All reports from the bourgeois press indicate that the great majority of Crimeans today (except for the Tatars) support being returned to Russia.

The Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine have good reason to fear the new government in Kiev. The fact that it initially voted to outlaw Russian as an official language made that clear, and the acting president’s subsequent vetoing of that law under US pressure is a fig leaf. Attacks on Russian speakers began -- the worst was the fire in Odessa that killed 40 people. The fire was the work of the Right Sector, according to the British Guardian. Most observers say that fire swung most Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine over to support the armed resistance.

The nature of the armed resistance to Kiev in eastern Ukraine is murky. There appear to be different groups with different programs and these programs are unclear. How much Russia is backing these groups is unclear, but what is clear is that other than in words, Russia is not at this time resisting the destruction of eastern Ukraine by Kiev forces (at least some of which are Svoboda and Right Sector).

This destruction is widespread, as can be seen in photos in even such pro-US and pro-NATO and pro-Kiev papers such as the New York Times, the British Guardian and British Financial Times of bombed-out buildings in cities “liberated” by the rightist government’s forces. Eastern Ukraine has become another source of refugees in the world.

According to the British Guardian of July 23, 2014:

  • About 2000 refugees per day are crossing the border from Ukraine to the Rostov region of Russia, and some 400 refugee camps, run by local authorities, are stretched to the limit.
  • Since June 4, more than 220,000 refugees have crossed the border from Ukraine to the Rostov region, Governor Vassily Golubev said.
  • Since April 1, over 515,000 people have arrived from southeastern Ukraine, the head of Russia's migration service Konstantin Romodanovsky said.
  • Germany's Merkel has called for a ceasefire. Obama is opposed. Obama is giving material and political support to Kiev's continued massive bombardment.
  • New Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko has promised to "kill dozens or hundreds" of "terrorists" for each Ukrainian army soldier killed. He is keeping his promise.

Since I live in the United States, my main opponent is my own imperialist government.

Concerning the downing of the Malaysian airliner, it does appear to have been an accident. I don't think either Kiev, the eastern Ukraine fighters or Moscow had any interest in doing this deliberately. But they all would have an interest in denying committing this atrocity. So I don’t put much stock in what they say, or what Washington says, or what Britain say etc. Perhaps the situation will become clearer.

In the meantime I wouldn’t jump to any conclusions based solely on what all these people assert without proof. And any “proof” must be scrutinised to see if it was faked.

Washington is using the crash like it utilised 9/11 to buttress its arguments for sanctions against Russia and that Kiev must use all the force necessary to destroy any opposition in eastern Ukraine. (Unlike 9/11, Washington can't invade.) The US media has fallen 100 per cent behind Washington, whipping up anti-Russian sentiment 24/7.

[Barry Sheppard was a long-time leader of the US Socialist Workers Party and the Fourth International. He recounts his experience in the SWP in a two-volume book, The Party — the Socialist Workers Party 1960-1988. Read more by Barry Sheppard HERE.]