Boris Kagarlitsky on eastern Ukraine: The logic of a revolt
Major anti-Kiev protests in eastern Ukraine, according to Wikipedia.
Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal has published several views from the left on developments in Ukraine HERE. For more by Boris Kagarlitsky, click HERE.
By Boris Kagarlitsky, translated by Renfrey Clarke for Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal
May 1, 2014 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Russian bureaucrats have been honestly surprised at the reaction by the official West—they did not expect such anger or unanimous condemnation. European politicians are beside themselves with fury. The mainstream press is relating appalling stories to its readers of Russian aggression against Ukraine. The television shows interviews with Kiev ministers and deputies who tearfully implore Europe to save their country from the enraged bear.
Indeed, the reputation of Putin’s Russia in the West is nothing wonderful—even worse than that of Brezhnev’s Soviet Union. But what we are now witnessing is quite outside the bounds of the usual. There was nothing resembling it either during the Cold War, or during the Chechen conflict, or during the clash between Russia and Georgia. We should not even mention the action of Yeltsin in shelling the Russian parliament; at that time, the liberal West applauded.
In Moscow, people were expecting criticism following the annexation of Crimea. But that was more than a month ago, and the Kremlin authorities have done nothing new since. Several times a day they repeat, like a mantra, words to the effect that they respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine; that they are not about to annex anyone else; that they have called on the West to work out a joint approach with them to the crisis…but the criticism has not ceased. Meanwhile, the more absurd the declarations issued by the present rulers in Kiev, the more avidly and delightedly these have been lapped up. Only after the signing of the Geneva agreement of 17 April between Ukraine, Russia and the West was there a certain softening: the European officials discovered abruptly that in Ukraine it was “necessary to deal with groups that answer neither to Kiev nor to Moscow,” and it was recognised that “clear proof was lacking” of interference from Moscow. But warnings were issued in every case that if the Russian authorities did not behave themselves, there would soon perhaps be such proof.
The arguments of the Kremlin in this dispute have not worked, and cannot work, for the simple reason that Western politicians for the present are not especially interested in what official Russia is thinking or doing. These politicians know perfectly well that there is no Russian invasion, and this, precisely, is the main international problem for them. To admit as much means admitting that the government in Kiev has gone to war on its own people. To speak of the Donetsk Peoples Republic as an independent political phenomenon in impossible, since this would require posing the question of the reasons for the popular protest, and listing its demands. The talk of Kremlin agents and of the ubiquitous Russian troops—who are impossible to discover, but who have occupied close to half of Ukraine without firing a shot or even showing themselves on Ukrainian territory—is playing the same propaganda role against the Donetsk republic as was played in the anti-Bolshevik propaganda of 1917 by stories of German spies and of money from the German General Staff.
The point here is not so much to discredit opponents of the present authorities, depicting them as traitors to their country, as to conceal the class essence of the movement that has arisen, its social basis. A half-unconscious fear has taken hold of the liberal public, from intellectuals and politicians to decent and almost progressive bourgeois, and is forcing them to believe the most obvious ravings, to repeat any manifest rubbish, so long as class struggle is neither mentioned nor thought about in any serious way. That is, not class struggle as it is described in learned tomes and depicted by the best avant-garde cinema, but as it occurs in real life, and as it becomes a fact of practical politics.
The new Kiev authorities are directing the same accusations at the anti-Maidan forces in the south-east, and spinning the same conspiratorial theories about them, as Yanukovich’s propaganda employed a few months back in discussing the Maidan. But all this is now being repeated on a scale ten or a hundred times greater than before, and is taking on completely grotesque forms.
The parallels between the Maidan and the anti-Maidan are quite genuine. Foreign money, of course, has been an element in each case, as has foreign influence. The foreign money flowing to the Maidan was American and Western European, while in the case of the anti-Maidan it has been Russian (or more likely, Russian money has been involved in each instance). The West, though, not only spent many times more money, but invested it far more wisely and effectively. But just as the victory of the Maidan in February was not and could not have been the result of Western political machinations, the successful revolt of hundreds of thousands (and perhaps millions) of people in eastern Ukraine is not to be explained on the basis of Russian interference.
Far more important than the similarities between these two movements, however, have been the differences. The key distinctions to be drawn are not even ideological, though the comparison between the dominant slogans—fascist in the case of the Maidan, demands for social rights in Donetsk, accompanied in the latter case by the singing of the Internationale—deserves unquestionably to be made. The ideological differences ultimately reflect the fundamentally different social nature and class basis of the two movements. Of course, the revolt of the south-east is not only a negation of the Maidan but also its offspring and continuation, just as October 1917 was simultaneously the offspring and continuation of the February revolution, and its negation. The elemental nature of a revolutionary crisis, once it has spun out of control, draws into its orbit fresh strata of society, new groups and classes that earlier have not taken part in politics.
Until recently political struggle was a privilege of “active society”, consisting of the liberal intelligentsia and of the middle classes of the capital, to whose assistance it was always possible to summon a certain number of impassioned members of marginal groups, above all unemployed young people from western Ukraine. The concept of democracy which many on the left shared, even if in unspoken fashion, with their liberal colleagues was of politics as a business for professionals or as entertainment for the middle layers. In this play-acting, the mass of working people (not only in the south-east, but in Kiev as well) were at best assigned the role of voters or of passive spectators, and at worst, that of guinea-pigs to be experimented on. The idea that this mass of silent and apparently apolitical people, preoccupied with their everyday struggle for survival, could play an active and independent part in events did not enter the heads of the liberal intelligentsia or of political elites of any persuasion. Even today, this idea is perceived by such people as an impossibility, a far-fetched nightmare.
The revolt of the hooligans
The events of the spring of 2014 had to happen sooner or later. The precursors to these developments did not even take place in Ukraine, but in Bosnia, where in defiance of all conventions crowds of enraged workers and unemployed came onto the streets in opposition to the established system, uniting under common slogans and shattering traditional political schemas based on the division of society into ethno-religious groups.
The waves of struggle that have swept through the cities of eastern and southern Ukraine, just like the protests in Bosnia, have sharply altered the sociology of political life. In the forefront have been the masses, with their demands, interests, hopes, illusions and prejudices. They are categorically unlike the romantic heroes of the children’s books, and their class consciousness was initially at an embryonic level. But once they began to act, they were destined to learn and to understand the science of social struggle.
It must be acknowledged that the experience of the Kiev Maidan did not go to waste. Rising in revolt against the Kiev authorities, the inhabitants of the Ukrainian south-east made use of the same methods with whose help the right-wing radicals forced the previous regime to submit to their will. Street demonstrations progressed quickly to the seizure of administrative buildings. But the activists in Donetsk and Lugansk, refusing to limit themselves to seizing the buildings of the provincial administrations, announced the founding of their own people’s republics. While the people’s republic in Lugansk as of mid-April remained mostly a slogan of the mass movement, in Donetsk it soon began taking on the features of an alternative regime. Aiding in this was the seizure of local militia stations and other state facilities. Some of these seizures were carried out by rebellious crowds, but in many cases disciplined armed groups were also involved—former members of the Berkut police special forces and other Ukrainian law enforcement organs who had been dismissed by the new Kiev government or who had deserted (some units quit the service practically in full strength, taking their weapons and ammunition with them).
The propaganda of official Kiev responded by describing the former officers of their own law enforcement agencies as Russian spetsnaz special forces. But among the population of the Ukrainian south-east, sympathetic to Russia, these accusations did not serve to discredit the revolt, but were more like an advertisement for it. The more the authorities in Kiev and their supporters spoke of direct Russian intervention in the region and even of its “occupation”, the more people in the localities concerned joined in the protests.
The main trigger for the revolt, however, was not the pro-Russian sympathies of the local population, or even the declared intention of the Kiev rulers of repealing the law that had given Russian the status of a “regional language”. Discontent had long been building up in the south-east, and the final drop that caused the cup to spill over was the dramatic worsening of the economic crisis that followed the change of government in Kiev. After signing their agreement with the International Monetary Fund, the authorities decreed steep rises in the charges for gas and medicines, and a social explosion became inevitable. In the west of the country and in the capital, growing indignation was restrained for a time through the use of nationalist rhetoric and anti-Russian propaganda. But when applied to the inhabitants of the east, this method had the reverse effect. Trying to douse the fire in the west, the authorities poured oil on the flames in the east.
“I find it hard to believe the change in my compatriots,” the resident of the city of Gorlovka Yegor Voronov wrote on the Ukrainian site Liva. “Only six months ago they were simple common folk who watched television and complained about the bad state of the roads and of the communal services. Now they’re fighters. In several hours by the provincial administration building I didn’t meet a single person who’d come from Russia. The people were from Mariupol, Gorlovka, Dzerzhinsk, Artemovsk, Krasnoarmeysk. Standing next to me were ordinary Donbass residents—the people we travel with every day on the bus, stand next to in the queues, argue with when they leave the door to the stairwell open. They weren’t the Kiev middle class, set apart from the people by their special ‘circumstances’, but everyday workers. And there’s no denying, there are plenty of unemployed in these parts. Here were all the people who for the past month and a half had been ‘begged’ in the private offices and state enterprises to take a cut in their miserable wages. So here’s another conclusion—the more the wages of Donbass residents are cut or squeezed today, the more protestors Kiev will get in the east.”
The people who have been protesting against the authorities in Donetsk, Lugansk and many other Ukrainian cities have not had any particular knowledge of politics, or even a clear program of action. The confusion in their slogans, along with their simultaneous use of religious and Soviet or revolutionary symbols, must undoubtedly offend strict connoisseurs of proletarian ideology. The trouble is that the ideologues themselves have been so immeasurably remote from the masses as to be unable and unwilling not only to instil “correct consciousness” in their ranks, but even to help them make sense of current political questions. While the movement has groped its way spontaneously and with difficulty along its political path, coming up with a general expression of the mood of anti-oligarchic and social protest, the members of the left, except for a few activists in Donetsk and Kharkov, have occupied themselves with abstract discussions in the expanses of the internet.
It was completely predictable that the liberal intelligentsia, both Ukrainian and Russian, should have met the protests of the masses with an outburst of hatred and contempt. The workers who took to the streets came in for a great deal of spiteful name-calling. They were derided as “lumpens”, “trash”, “hooligans” and most amusingly, vatniki [“quilted jackets”]. On the whole, however, the caricature figure of the vatnik, copied from the American cartoon hero Spongebob, suggested precisely an individual unswervingly loyal to the state authorities and completely taken in by government propaganda. In this respect the people in Ukraine who deserved most to be regarded as vatniki were the intellectuals, who repeated uncritically any propaganda put about by the new government, even the most absurd.
It should be noted that in the lying competition waged by the propaganda services of Moscow and Kiev, it was the Ukrainians who clearly took out first prize. It was not that the Russians lied less, but the Kievans lied more recklessly and inventively, showing not the slightest regard for the truth and not even considering whether the television images they showed bore any relation to the commentary. The latter consisted solely of impassioned accounts of armoured vehicles heroically beating off crowds of Russian special forces troops, who were trying to force-feed the hungry soldiers with jam and home-made pickles.
It is not at all surprising that the liberal intelligentsia should have viewed the ordinary people of Donetsk, or anywhere else, as enemies and a threat to “progress” (as the intelligentsia understood it). Far more interesting is to ponder the reasons why a certain sector of the left on both sides of the border spoke out in the same vein as the liberals. As events proceeded the Ukrainian left-liberals at least refined their views and acknowledged that some of the demands of the Donbass were justified (this can be gauged from the materials of the Kiev conference “The Left and the Maidan”). But their Russian and Western co-thinkers took a position of complete irreconcilability, solidarising fully with the Kiev government and the leaders of the European Union. Significant numbers of “Eurolefts” also expressed such views, especially those among them who earlier had stressed the need to focus on such themes as multiculturalism, tolerance and political correctness.
Observing this, the Kiev political scientist Vladimir Ishchenko noted despondently: “It’s a strange feeling, when the army is already with the people, and many leftists (anarchists!!!) are still with the authorities.”
Obviously, this situation cannot be explained purely on the basis of ideological logic. The people and groups involved here seek to trace their political pedigrees to a mythologised and prettified 1917 revolution. It is significant that in many cases they employ the same arguments against the revolution now actually occurring in south-eastern Ukraine as were used against the Bolsheviks by their opponents a little less than a hundred years ago.
We have now seen a quarter-century of reactionary hegemony, with the political and moral collapse of the left movement (not only on the territory of the former USSR, but in other countries as well). Over many years, play-acting at political correctness and the observance of minority rights is supposed to have taken the place of class and mass politics. None of this, of course, has passed without having an effect. On the level of social consciousness we have been thrown back a century and a half. Part of the responsibility belongs with the intelligentsia, which long ago forgot its popular mission and has occupied itself with refined cultural and ideological games instead of working with the masses and for the masses.
Precisely for this reason, the movement in Donetsk with all its contradictions and even absurdities, such as icons and tricolours alongside the red flag, has provided a first-rate picture of the stage of development out of which workers’ actions arose in the nineteenth century. Meanwhile the Donetsk Republic, if we examine it attentively, recalls more than anything the spontaneous political formations that working people created “prior to the advent of historical materialism”.
Before us is the real working class—crude, muddle-headed and devoid of political correctness. Anyone who dislikes the present ideological and cultural state of the class should go and work with the masses. The good thing is that no-one is stopping people going to this crowd with red flags and socialist leaflets (unlike the case with the Maidan, where the flags were torn up, and left agitators were beaten and thrown off the square).
The future of the Donetsk Republic remains undecided, and this represents a huge historical opportunity of which there was not even a trace during the Maidan demonstrations, whose leaders could not always control the crowd, but kept rigid and effective control of the political agenda. By contrast, the Donetsk Republic formulates its agenda from below, literally on the run, in response to the public mood and the course of events. Strictly speaking this republic is not even a state—rather, it amounts to a coalition of diverse communities, most of them self-organised. In essence, it is the perfect embodiment of the anarchist concept of the revolutionary order. Curiously, the anarchists themselves refuse to have anything to do with it, preferring to repeat the state and patriotic rhetoric of the new Kiev rulers.
It is not hard to work out that the reason why the self-organisation of the Donetsk Republic functions relatively well is because the remnants of the old administrative apparatus carry on with their everyday operations as if nothing out of the ordinary were happening, while all the questions of government are reduced ultimately to the organising of defence. But is this so different from the Paris Commune (not the idealised and romanticised commune, but the one that actually existed)? If the people’s republic in Donetsk survives for much longer, it will inevitably change, and it is far from certain that this will be for the better. But in waging its first battle, the republic has already demonstrated the huge potential of the self-organisation of the masses. Unarmed people succeeded in stopping units of the Ukrainian army and in carrying on agitation with the soldiers, blowing apart the “anti-terrorist operation” that Kiev had initiated. This peaceful resistance will not only go down in history, but will also become an important part of the collective social experience of Ukrainian and Russian workers.
Catastrophe of the middle class
The events in Kiev that began in the winter of 2013 can legitimately be described as the latest “revolt of the middle class”. If we start with the beginning of the new century, these uprisings have rolled literally across the entire world, from the United States to Brazil and the Arab countries. Russia and Ukraine have not been exceptions. But although these revolts have had a whole series of features in common, their political agendas have not by any means always been similar. In some cases general democratic slogans have been combined with the demand for progressive social reforms in the interests of the majority of the population, while in others these slogans have been intermixed with the most primitive group egoism, effectively transforming democratic rhetoric into a cover for programs that in essence have been clearly undemocratic.
This incoherence is no accident. Because of the extremely insecure intermediate position the middle class occupies in contemporary society, it is also extremely unstable in ideological and political terms, prone to lurching both to left and right. Equally, it is not by chance that in the countries of the global “centre” middle-class protest is more often than not progressive, while on the periphery the reverse is true. The larger the middle class, and the more conscious its members are of their position as hired workers, the fewer illusions the class has concerning its position, its attributes and its prospects. By contrast, the narrower middle layers in the countries of the periphery and semi-periphery are more often inclined to elitist illusions, and to viewing their position as being threatened not by the implementation of neoliberal reforms, but by the claims of the dispossessed and invariably “backward” lower orders to a bigger share of the pie. Meanwhile the self-appraisal of the middle class, its idea of its own abilities and prospects, often amounts to a set of the most improbable illusions and myths. The more peripheral the economy of a country, the more preposterous these views turn out to be.
These misconceptions can, of course, be cured. Provided a country has a strong civic tradition and a left movement is present, a project of radical democratic modernisation may be developed, and even in such circumstances this will draw in behind it a part of the middle class—as has happened, for example, in Venezuela. But as soon as such a project encounters difficulties or ceases moving forward, we see how a section of the middle class turns sharply to the right.
The paradox lies in the fact that the movement of the left intelligentsia, which for many years has lacked any connection with working people but has been of one flesh with the middle class, has shared for the most part in the vacillations of its social base. For the left to maintain its ties with the middle class does not pose any great problems, considering that the social structure of modern society is now very different from what it was in the time of Marx. But the task of the left is to work toward the formation of a broad social bloc in which the middle class with the majority of society, and above all with the working class. Otherwise, the political agenda of the middle class becomes reactionary, and the left, in serving this agenda, not only finishes up misleading and confusing its comrades, but objectively (and not only objectively) furthers the interests of reaction. Ultimately, the victims of this process include the middle class itself.
This is what happened in Ukraine. Or more precisely, in Kiev.
Hostages of the Maidan
In observing events, ideologues of the enlightened middle class have been compelled to note the unconcealed hegemony of the right, and to grasp where the political vector of the movement is headed. But they have limited themselves to making trite excuses along the lines of “fascists and Bandera followers weren’t the only ones on the Maidan.” It is as though the debate were about the composition of the crowd, and not about who played the dominant role within the crowd, exercising ideological and political hegemony.
In some ways, the situation would have been less dangerous if the crowd in Kiev had consisted solely of convinced fascists. Even among the militants of the Banderist “hundreds”, not everyone was a committed fascist; people are not born adhering to fascism any more than they are born as communists, socialists or, believe it or not, liberals. But the Banderist ranks, after undergoing the corresponding socialisation, finishing up in the hundreds, and taking part in their actions, are indeed becoming genuine fascists. The Maidan became a real threat to democracy mainly because the ultrarightists managed to win the leadership of masses of everyday individuals from the middle classes of the capital, as well as student youth and a section of the intelligentsia. The left-liberal intellectuals, despite seeing clearly who was present in the ingredients of the Maidan cocktail and who was doing the stirring, joined in the process instead of speaking out against it. These intellectuals thus bear a direct responsibility not only for the political consequences of what occurred, but also for the personal fates of many people whom they drew into the movement.
Supporting the Maidan process, the left-liberals handed ordinary people over to ideological reworking, permitting and aiding their transformation into “human material”, a resource for use in implementing the agenda of the right (since there was no other agenda on the Maidan, and could not be amid the complete hegemony of the reactionary forces). They created a psychological and cultural atmosphere favouring a new wave of antisocial reforms, planned by the political leaders of the Ukrainian opposition.
Of course, speaking out against the Maidan in a context of general euphoria, while standing up to mass-media pressure and conservative-nationalist hegemony, was difficult and sometimes also dangerous. The Maidan militants began using physical violence against dissenters even before power finished up in their hands.
Then, a month and a half after the events in Kiev, other people came onto the streets of Ukrainian cities, people nothing like the middle class of the capital, and the mood and style of speech of the intellectuals changed dramatically. The intellectual critics of the Donetsk republic collected evidence with the tenacity and mean-spiritedness of a provincial prosecutor who has been entrusted with a case that is plainly collapsing. The Maidan was forgiven for its aggressive use of violence, for the Molotov cocktails thrown not at armoured cars but directly at people, at the conscript soldiers whom the government had drawn up in cordons.
Meanwhile, the Donetsk republic was condemned for the attempts made by its supporters to stop tanks with their bare hands, without weapons and without shooting at anyone; where the republic was concerned, nothing was let pass. Needless to say, there has been a good deal in the protests in eastern Ukraine that contradicts our ideas of a “correct” revolutionary aesthetic, but why have the left intellectuals been so indulgent toward the aesthetic of the Maidan, in what would seem to be comparable circumstances? Why have they forgiven the portraits of Bandera, the “flags of a foreign state” (the European Union), the Nazi symbols, the racist slogans, and most importantly, the openly antisocial, reactionary and antidemocratic agenda of the official leaders of the movement?
Dual standards are without doubt the norm for propaganda, but in this case we are dealing not with journalists for state television channels, but with intellectuals, who pride themselves on their independence and critical thinking.
The protests in the Ukrainian south-east would seem to have given the intellectuals everything they had dreamt of for many years, if we are to believe their words and writings. Shouldn’t non-violent resistance, stopping the state’s military machine in its tracks, have delighted the “greens” and anarchists? Aren’t spontaneously organised local groups the ideal mechanisms for self-rule? And why is the appearance on the streets of a mass of workers at odds with the prophecies and appeals of Marxists? Why aren’t the left intellectuals rejoicing? Why are they joining in the chorus of fascists and pogrom instigators, calling for bloody retribution to be visited on the rebels, or at best, maintaining a shameful silence?
Here, just as indicated by the teachings of Doctor Freud, we find what is not so much ideological inconsistency as unconscious terror. The reason the intellectuals attack the Donetsk republic is not only and not so much because they wish to condemn it, as because they hope to justify themselves, to prove to themselves that they have not been mistaken, and most importantly, to satisfy themselves that no guilt attaches to them because of their support for the nationalists on the Maidan. All their intellectual refinement, and all their sharpness of mind, has gone into devising arguments to justify the extreme right or collaboration with its members.
The uncritical support shown by intellectuals for the Maidan is appalling not only because it forces them into a morally catstrophic position. Much worse is the fact that once they have got themselves onto these rails, they find it very difficult to get off. Taking this position isolates the intellectuals not just from the masses who have risen up in genuine revolutionary protest in south-eastern Ukraine, but also from the large numbers of supporters and activists of the Maidan who yesterday were feeling doubts, today are disillusioned, and tomorrow will join in the protests, perhaps in the first ranks. Ordinary people can change their views, even to the direct opposite, relatively easily and without shame. But not intellectuals. Ordinary people are always able to say simply, “They deceived me.” Intellectuals have to confess: “I deceived people.”
Donetsk in the shadow of Moscow
It is no secret that the rebellious masses of the Ukrainian south-east have been counting on support from Moscow. Unfurling tricolours and shouting slogans about their love for Russia, they have sincerely hoped to draw the fraternal state onto their side. This hope has united people who dream of unification with Russia, others who seek the federalisation of Ukraine, and still others who simply hope that the might of Russia will defend the residents of the region against repression from Kiev. But from the very first, official Moscow has taken an ambiguous position on the events concerned. While clearly supporting a movement aimed against the openly unfriendly government in Kiev, it is least of all prepared to sponsor a popular revolution, even if the outcome would serve to expand the Russian state. The Kremlin functionaries do not relish the thought of receiving as their new subjects masses of rebellious people who are organised, often armed, and who have acquired the habit of active struggle for their rights. This is especially true in the context of a growing socio-economic crisis within Russia itself. Revolutions are sometimes exported, but there are few state officials who would want to import one.
Moscow has never wanted to conquer Ukraine or dismember it. This is not because the Kremlin has been loyal to the interests of a neighbouring state, but simply because the Russian leadership has lacked any strategic plan whatever. Today’s Russian elites are fundamentally incapable of thinking strategically. Two circumstances have exacerbated the situation. In the first place, it has proven impossible to consolidate the results achieved in Crimea. The annexation of Crimea to Russia was unquestionably an improvisation, and not so much on the part of Moscow as on that of the Crimean elites, who reacted to a changed situation and exploited it to serve their interests. But once Crimea had been annexed, the main task facing Russian diplomacy was to defend the acquisition. Part of this involved sacrificing the interests of the Ukrainian south-east. Meanwhile Russian society, unlike the liberal intelligentsia, has massively supported the Donetsk insurgents, and this has placed the Kremlin in a very difficult situation. To emphatically encourage such moods would mean creating a culture of resistance and revolt in the masses. But a sharp change of course, involving a refusal to support the rebels, would be risky; the patriotic moods cultivated by the Russian authorities themselves would take on the character of protest.
In such a situation the policy of the Kremlin is necessarily ambiguous and contradictory, but we witnessed a curious moment of truth when an agreement between Russia, Ukraine and the West was signed in Geneva on April 17. At first glance everything seemed thoroughly proper and conventional; there were appeals for reconciliation, disarmament and mutual concessions. But even before the meeting began, the Russian side, supposedly for technical reasons, renounced its demand that representatives of south-eastern Ukraine should take part in the talks. Later, it was said that the Russian delegation in Geneva had presented the viewpoint of eastern Ukrainian organisations, specifically, the Party of Regions and other oligarchic structures. The Donetsk Peoples Republic, the only force that genuinely unites the population and controls the situation at the local level, was not even mentioned.
The text of the resulting document indicated clearly that Moscow would not object to the liquidation of the Donetsk republic: “Among the steps for whose implementation we call are the following: all illegal armed organisations must be disarmed; all unlawfully occupied buildings must be returned to their legitimate owners; and all occupied streets, squares and other public places in all cities of Ukraine must be cleared. An amnesty must be put in place for all protesters except those who have committed serious crimes.”
In principle, the main idea that underlay the agreement, and that united the various sides, was a refusal to recognise the Donetsk republic as a political fact. It was consensus on this point that served as the pact’s real basis. The subsection on disarming “illegal formations” was written in a way calculated to suit the new Kiev authorities. Formally, the subsection proposes disarmament by both sides. But the Kiev government is to retain its army, the security services and the National Guard. The Donetsk republic has no armed formations apart from its “unlawful” militia. Lavrov reported after the event that by unlawful formations he had in mind the National Guard as well, but there is not a word about this in the text of the agreement. The Ukrainian side and the West will interpret the agreement differently, and in juridical terms they will be completely correct: the National Guard was set up by an official decision of the government, with the consent of the Supreme Rada. As for the “feral” hundreds and the elements of the Right Sector that have not yet been legalised through incorporation into the National Guard, the Kiev government itself dreams of disarming these, since conflicts with them have arisen already.
Even more important, though, is the demand for the relinquishing of the occupied buildings and for the removal of the barricades on streets and squares. If this stipulation is fulfilled, it will mean the self-liquidation of the Donetsk and Lugansk republics, and the return to their former positions of the administrators appointed by Kiev. This is despite the fact that it was precisely these appointments that provoked the uprising. To rule the south-eastern provinces, Kiev named oligarchs hated by the people, giving these figures political authority in addition to their economic power.
It is noteworthy that this point is not offset by any counterbalancing concessions. Nothing, for example, is said about Kiev officially calling off its so-called anti-terrorist operations in eastern Ukraine, and there is no suggestion that military units are to be withdrawn to the places where they are usually stationed. That would make perfect sense, considering the obvious failure of the operations and the decreptitude of the army.
In sum, Moscow signed an agreement that provided for the uprising to capitulate in exchange for an abstract promise to begin an open and “inclusive” constitutional process, and did not even propose direct talks with the insurgents! Naturally, the representatives of the Ukrainian government were not called upon to give any clear undertakings as to how the preparations for this reform would be carried out.
The Russian diplomats were in such a hurry to sign the Geneva agreement with Kiev that they did not even bother to demand the removal of the disgraceful ban on the entry to Ukraine of adult males from the Russian Federation. This was despite the fact that the ban contradicts all international norms and amounts to a direct and flagrant breach of human rights, as the Russian negotiators would have had to point out in the presence of the Western representatives.
Official Kiev lost no time in exploiting the opportunities it had been given. Premier Arseny Yatsenyuk heaped threats onto the Donetsk and Lugansk rebels, demanding their immediate surrender and referring to the Geneva agreement, in the framework of which “Russia was forced to condemn extremism.”
The arrest of Konstantin Dolgov, one of the leaders of the Kharkov left-centre coalition Popular Unity; the attacks by the Right Sector on Donetsk republic checkpoints; and acts of repression against activists, all of which followed immediately after the signing of the Geneva agreement, confirmed that Kiev did not have in mind either democratic dialogue or a peaceful settlement. Even if the government of Turchinov and Yatsenyuk had been ready to make concessions, it would have been prevented from doing so by the radical nationalists, without whose support the new regime could no longer exist.
For their part, the leaders of the Donetsk republic stated that they were pleased to note the expression in the Geneva agreement of a “change in the position of the countries of the West in relation to the Ukrainian events.” But since representatives of the republic had not been invited to the meeting in Geneva, and had not signed the document, the Donetsk leaders did not consider themselves bound by it.
“We are forced to state that our warning concerning the juridical worthlessness and political absurdity of an ‘all-Ukrainian’ dialogue without the participation of the lawful representatives of eastern Ukraine and of the Donetsk People’s Republic has, unfortunately, proved completely justified. Ignoring the will of the people of the Donbass has had a predictably sad outcome: the results of the discussions can only be assessed as a set of pointless, semi-coherent appeals, impossible to realise in practice, directed by some obscure figures at unnamed people, and subject to implementation over an indeterminate period and in unknown fashion. At present these appeals reflect neither political realities, nor the new legal situation that has arisen since the proclamation of the sovereign Donetsk Peoples Republic, on whose territory they have no legal force.”
The Geneva agreement will not be implemented. How can anyone force people to carry out such an agreement when these people have just begun to feel their strength? When tanks turn tail and run from them? When they are able to bring army columns to a halt simply with catcalls and obscenities? The people will not surrender their positions just because important gentlemen in Geneva, without asking anyone actually on the spot, have taken it on themselves to decide the fate of others.
For anyone in Donetsk, Lugansk, Odessa, Kharkov (and even Kiev) who has held out hopes that Putin’s Russia will solve all the problems through its solidary intervention, recent events will have been a sobering disappointment. But this disappointment will simply benefit the movement. Not only must the revolution rely on its own strength, but it already has enough strength to be successful. This is especially true since regardless of the position taken by the Kremlin, the sympathy of Russian society remains on the side of the insurgent people of a fraternal country.
Where Russia itself is concerned, the ruling layers are at risk of remaining in the hole they have painstakingly dug for themselves. By surrendering their positions on the Ukrainian question, they are turning against themselves the patriotic moods whose rise they have fostered in every conceivable way over the past few months. Of course, no facts will ever convince people who consider Putin an irreproachable hero or, on the other hand, a fairy-tale villain. But such people, even if they spam 70 per cent of the internet with their ravings, are nevertheless a minority.
Ukraine government says it has ‘lost control’ in eastern Ukraine as pro-autonomy upsurge deepens
By Roger Annis, May 5, 2014
Since the following article was written on May 1, dramatic events have shaken Ukraine. The governing regime in Kyiv has deepened its military attacks against the anti-austerity and pro-autonomy movements in eastern and southern Ukraine. It is encouraging the formation of extreme-right and fascist militias to assist its army. Rightists and fascists in the city of Odessa committed atrocities on May 2. An arson attack on the city’s trade union headquarters killed dozens and injured scores. Police stood aside and watched. The NATO military alliance is standing shoulder to shoulder with the regime and staging threatening military moves and further sanctions against Russia. A forthcoming article by this writer will examine these most recent events.
Less than one week following an announcement of a renewed offensive against ‘terrorism’ in the east of Ukraine, the governing regime in Kyiv now says it is helpless in trying to control the restive population there. A broad, popular surge is sweeping the region in which citizens are taking over public buildings and organizing plebiscites on May 11 and 18 over proposals for political autonomy.
Among the large cities to fall completely under local control in recent days are Horlivka, population 300,000, in Donetsk region, and Luhansk, 450,000, in Luhansk region.
In Luhansk*, a crowd gathered in front of the regional administration building on April 29 and then moved in. The Wall Street Journal reports that three additional buildings were occupied– regional police headquarters, prosecutor’s office and television broadcasting facilities. It says the rally at the administration building involved “thousands”. The Guardian’s Luke Harding put the number at 3,000. He reports from the city that all major public buildings in Luhansk have been occupied.
He writes that a similar process has taken place in Horlivka.
BBC News reports that President Oleksander Turchynov has criticized the police in Luhansk for “inaction” and “criminal treachery”. His regime’s ‘anti-terrorism’ offensive in eastern Ukraine has repeatedly broken down because police and the soldiers of the Ukraine army have simply refused to fire upon their fellow citizens.
The Guardian’s Harding says that many police in Luhansk went over to the side of protesters, taking their weapons with them. An officer in Donetsk, the largest city in eastern Ukraine with one million inhabitants, told him on April 28, “This situation is all Kyiv’s fault. They say we in the east are slaves, half-humans. They revere people like Stepan Bandera [the second world war Ukrainian nationalist leader] who shot our brothers. We are normal citizens like everyone else.”
President Turchynov said at a meeting with regional governors on April 29, “I will be frank: Today, security forces are unable to quickly take the situation in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions under control.” The news story reporting Turchynov’s bleak assessment also reports that Ukraine’s Parliament recently tried to craft a referendum vote that would provide for a looser, federal political order for the country. It couldn’t reach agreement on whether to do so.
Harding writes, “The reality is that Kiev’s authority has vanished, probably forever.”
The term “separatist” is now universally deployed by mainstream media to describe the pro-autonomy movement in eastern Ukraine. An exception, much closer to the truth, is an Associated Press report in the April 30 Toronto Star, which says, “Regional autonomy is a core issue in the unrest in eastern Ukraine, where insurgents fear the government that took power after Yanukovych will suppress the region’s Russian-speaking people.”
Rightist political forces in Ukraine are turning to creating militias to do the dirty work that regular soldiers are refusing to do. Robert Parry, editor of Consortium News, details the formation of militias and other actions of the rightists in an April 19 article in Truthout.
One such militia is presumed to be responsible for one of the few acts of bloodletting that has occurred during the upsurge, an attack on a protest checkpoint outside the city of Slavyansk on April 20 that killed three people.
But the militias are up against a population that is organized, has a political objective—opposition to austerity and in favour of regional autonomy—and that has access to weapons to defend itself. Hence the looming shadow of a much larger military force–the NATO military alliance. NATO countries are responding to the upsurge with military threats and buildup of forces in eastern Europe. They are couching their threats against eastern Ukraine with unfounded accusations against Russia, accusing it of orchestrating the unrest for its narrow interests.
The big powers are targeting a larger number of Russian individuals for economic sanctions. But they have stopped short of sanctions against entire industries or institutions in Russia because of the damage that would cause to economic relations with Russia’s capitalist economy, including all-important supplies of natural gas to central and western Europe
Globe and Mail business writer Brian Milner pens a column on April 29 (subscriber only) examining the difficult prospects for economic sanctions against Russia. He writes, “To have any sort of impact, the West must set up effective roadblocks that impinge on Russia’s vital connections to global financial, trade and investment flows. But heavy sanctions come with a cost neither Washington nor Brussels has shown a willingness to pay … at least not yet.”
Perhaps, too, the hesitations on Russia sanctions are a hint of who and what, exactly, NATO countries are concerned about—not existing or future business partners in Russia but the rebellious people of eastern Ukraine.
Uncertainty on the NATO side over what it can do was voiced by the head of the air force squad that Canada has sent to the eastern Europe as part of the NATO buildup. Canada has dispatched six CF-18 fighter aircraft and, according to the Globe and Mail’s Steven Chase, as many as 250 personnel.
“There is a lot of uncertainty about what we’re going to be doing over there,” said Lt.-Gen. Yvan Blondin at an April 29 press conference including Canada’s defense minister. Blondin said the CF-18s will likely be taking part in routine training exercises. “We’re going to go to Romania. When we get there, it’s going to be day-to-day flying like we do in Bagotville [Quebec], except it’s going to be training with Romanian and other NATO countries from day to day. And then we’ll see.
“We’re not sure how long we’re going to be staying, but we’ll be staying until the government tells us it’s time to come back,” Blondin said.
The Canadian warplanes will be based in Romania. Countries in western Europe are also stationing more military aircraft eastward, including Britain, France and Denmark.
There hasn’t been a peep of opposition in Canada’s Parliament to the Harper government’s decision to send fighter aircraft to threaten the people of Ukraine. The Toronto Star’s Thomas Walkom concludes his column of April 30 with a piercing question for Canada’s members of Parliament: “Are Canadians prepared to wage war over who controls the Donetsk region of Ukraine? Are they willing to lose lives in order to protect Romanian air space?”
He makes an observation that has to be weighing heavily on the minds of the would-be warmakers in Ottawa: “Canada’s military is exhausted by the war in Afghanistan. So is Canada’s population.”
Australian writer Renfrey Clarke has published a concise analysis in Truthout of the anti-austerity concerns that are propelling the people of eastern Ukraine into rebellion. Their actions are fueled by concerns over the Kyiv government’s embrace of austerity diktats from the European Union and international financial institutions. These are a condition of the financial assistance the government is seeking.
Clarke’s article begins, “The economic plans of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and his government in Ukraine will amount less to austerity than to economic evisceration.” Kyiv’s Europe dreams will require a top to bottom upheaval of the economy of eastern Ukraine, including ties to the markets where it sells and purchases its products. The result will be economic retrenchment to exceed, even, that suffered by countries in southern Europe of late, such as Greece.
No wonder the people are in rebellion and NATO is troubled. Pro-autonomy votes will likely have damaging economic consequences for the people in the short term. But those couldn’t be worse than what European austerity programs have on offer. And as peoples throughout eastern Europe and Russia take inspiration from events in eastern Ukraine, a new kind of destiny will take shape in which ordinary people may have some say in their future.
* ‘Luhansk is the Ukrainian-language transliteration of the name; ‘Lugansk’ is the Russian version.
This article first appeared on Truthout on May 5, 2014.
Posted on behalf of Renfrey Clarke
What can one say? In January 1905 the Russian workers were led by Father
Gapon, and went out on the morning of Bloody Sunday to plead for the
Tsar, their Little Father, to recognise the justice of their demands. We
all know that finished up, both on the day concerned and over the
succeeding months. In short order, the fact that the workers had started
out with illusions ceased to decide anything.
Reading the postings by the Donetsk militants (http://www.rusvesna.su), I'm struck by the fact that the insurgency in south-eastern Ukraine is very much a movement of industrial workers. In the city of Yenakievo, and no doubt elsewhere, miners and steelworkers have adhered to the movement en masse. The militants have long since shed any illusions in Kiev governments and oligarchs (note that they're burning down banks owned by Kolomoysky, one of the worst of the latter). And now that Putin has withdrawn even his rhetorical support for their cause, the militants are losing their illusions in the Russian state as well.
When faced with intolerable economic prospects, and subjected to physical threat, workers look for leadership to anyone who seems prepared to fight and has some ideas about how the struggle should proceed. Ideally, these leaders will be experienced revolutionary Marxists, but for the most part they'll fall far short of this. We won't, however, dismiss the potential of the working class as an agent of revolutionary change on the basis that at times its members fall under the influence of adventurers of one stripe or another. We voice our confidence in the ability of working people to learn from their experience and to develop leaders who understand the interests of the class, and who have the courage and principle to conduct the struggle accordingly.
Unless, that is, we're complete sectarian imbeciles. Like the writer of the text that follows.
Date: Fri, 9 May 2014 20:43:44 +1000
Subject: [GreenLeft_discussion] Ukraine slides towards civil war: don’t choose a side in battle of reaction
Ukraine slides towards civil war: don’t choose a side in battle of
By Tash Shifrin | 5 May 2014
Pro-Ukraine fighter throws a molotov cocktail at the Trade Union House,
Odessa. Inside dozens of Antimaidan activists were burned to death. Pic
The death toll in Odessa, in the south of Ukraine has reached 46, after
clashes between broadly pro-Russian “Antimaidan” protestors and
pro-Ukrainian Euromaidan activists on Friday 2 May.
Most of the dead met a terrible end when a building occupied by
Antimaidan activists was attacked by the pro-Ukrainian side and set on
fire with molotov cocktails.
Since then, there have been at least a dozen more deaths as the
Ukrainian army has tried to regain control of the eastern city of
Slovyansk, which had been held by Antimaidan forces.
This is a horrific escalation of the conflict that looks ever more
likely to rip Ukraine apart – the mirror image battle of reactionary
forces on both sides, each backed by a rival reactionary imperialism.
Ukraine is on the edge of civil war.
Russia has been poised with 40,000 troops on the borders for weeks – a
full scale invasion is increasingly likely. In response, US intervention
is also likely to increase, ratcheting up the tension internationally.
The latest grim events have borne out the analysis we presented here on
Dream Deferred back in February, after the fall of former president
Viktor Yanukovych and just before the installation of the new government
We warned then of the danger of civil war. In fact, it is worth going
back to this post in February to see where the this stage of Ukraine’s
crisis began – and how it already had the potential to spiral out of
>> Our analysis from just after the fall of Yanukovych, February 2014We reported the beginnings of “Antimaidan” protests, opposed to the new
pro-EU Kiev regime and oriented towards Russia – and how, mirroring the
descent of Euromaidan into paramilitary organisation, the Antimaidan
protestors in the south and east of Ukraine were already forming their
own paramilitary groups.
Just as Euromaidan was coloured by Ukrainian nationalism, the Antimaidan
protestors bear Russian flags, regional flags or those of the former
These two ugly nationalisms offer only greater division to Ukraine’s
battered working class. And this climate has been a feeding ground for
organised fascists, stoking racism, anti-Semitism and reaction – on both
Back in February, we pointed to the likelihood that Ukraine would lose
Crimea – and the dangerous potential for a bloody break-up of the
Now the death toll is rising, the Kiev government is reinstating
conscription in order to raise forces to fight the pro-Russian
paramilitaries in the south and east of the country. Parts of the
Euromaidan paramilitary Samooborona, the so-called “Self Defence”
organisation – with fascists at its core – have been incorporated into
the new National Guard, effectively a politicised and partisan state
The independently led fascist fighters of Pravy Sektor (“Right Sector”)
are also keen to throw themselves into the battle – in the interests of
a Ukrainian “national revolution”.
Division and devastation
But no one should be tempted to back either side in a bloody conflict
that can bring only division and devastation to ordinary people in
There were some on the left who argued to support Euromaidan, seeing it
as progressive or anticapitalist. We argued on Dream Deferred that as a
movement Euromaidan was not progressive, despite the genuine desires of
many protestors for greater democracy and a real anger at economic
The pro-EU Euromaidan movement, which drew support mainly from then
predominantly Ukrainian-speaking west and central regions, did not raise
working class demands that could have reached out to workers in the
south and east. Instead, it was wrapped in Ukrainian nationalism and the
fascists’ role was unquestioned.
And we exposed the prominent role of fascists both within the wider
Euromaidan protests and especially in the development of its
paramilitary forces. And we revealed the presence of fascist ministers
in the new Kiev government, well ahead of the mainstream media.
Now there are others on the left who see some kind of salvation in the
Antimaidan movement, the broadly pro-Russian or “separatist”
protestors – and their paramilitaries, who in imitation of the rival
paramilitaries of Euromaidan have occupied government buildings and set
up checkpoints. They have for weeks been engaged in a military
confrontation with the Kiev government, which sent the army in against
I would argue that people on the left should resist supporting either
side in this grim battle.
The eastern movement is no more progressive than its Euromaidan mirror
image, despite the genuine fears and anger of many of its supporters,
who do not believe the Kiev government is legitimate and who feel
threatened by the Right Sector and other Euromaidan paramilitaries.
More from Dream Deferred on the crisis in Ukraine
>> No tears for Yanukovych, no cheers for new regime or fascists in itsBut as with Euromaidan, the Antimaidan protests have not articulated
>>The fascists and the paramilitaries
>> Background to the Euromaidan protests – divided Ukraine and the
>> fascists’ role
working class demands – the sort of politics that could reach across the
Instead, Russian nationalism pervades Antimaidan – sometimes with a
Stalinist shade. Russian and Soviet Union flags have been much in
evidence and the movement’s unifying symbol is the black and orange
striped Ribbon of St George – taken from the medal ribbon awarded by the
Soviet Union in World War II. These hark back to the days of a greater
Russian empire that incorporated Ukraine.
The pro-Russia and Russian nationalist politics that dominate Antimaidan
are a comfortable environment for fascist groups. In the more chaotic
environment of Antimaidan, fascists are not the easily identifiable
organised force that they were in Euromaidan – but they are there.
Ukraine’s largest fascist organisations, Svoboda and the groups that
make up Right Sector, are based on Ukrainian nationalism.
Fascism and reaction
But there are smaller Russian nationalism-based fascist groups in
Ukraine as well, such as Slavic Unity, which is linked to the nazi
Russian National Unity party inside Russia. Some of these
Russian-oriented fascists staged a march in Donetsk, east Ukraine, in
November last year – shortly before the outbreak of the Euromaidan
Now such groups are able to immerse themselves in Antimaidan. The black,
gold and white monarchist flag, favoured by Russian extreme nationalist
and fascist organisations, has been on display in some areas, along with
slogans calling for a “New Russia” – incorporating south and east
Ukraine – or a Greater Russia, taking in Ukraine and Belarus.
And a readily noticeable strand of anti-Semitism infects Antimaidan
propaganda, along with other racist and homophobic material.
The Antimaidan movement likes to dub itself “anti-fascist”. But, as when
Russia’s deeply reactionary president Vladimir Putin claims to be an
“anti-fascist”, this should be seen as the hollow propaganda that it is.
Genuine anti-fascist movements are not built by promoting rival
nationalist or chauvinist ideas – nor by small groups of young men
forming unaccountable armed paramilitary groups. This creates only a
mirror image of the Svoboda and Right Sector forces.
In a particularly twisted combination of fake “anti-fascist” rhetoric
and real anti-Semitism, some graphics are designed to illustrate the
perverse idea that the nazi Right Sector is a Jewish or
Antimaidan lacks the well known political figures who assumed the
leadership of Euromaidan – nor does it have a clear, unified set of
demands or the central focus of Kiev’s Independence Square (the original
“maidan”), although in some cities there have been sizeable Antimaidan
In the eastern and southern provinces, a range of groups and militias
has emerged, including the well publicised “People’s Republic of
Donetsk” with its red, blue and black flag, along with the Donbass
People’s Militia, the Eastern Front, the South-Eastern Army and others.
These have thrown up leaders who are previously unknown – and not
obviously elected. They are an unsavoury looking bunch. They include
Denis Pushilin, the “governor” of the People’s Republic of Donetsk, a
former pyramid scam operator.
Donbass People’s Militia leader Pavel Gubarev – front row, third from
left – in his days with the fascist paramilitary group Russian National
Unity. Pic credit: Pauluskp
The Donbass People’s Militia is led by Pavel Gubarev – a former member
of fascist paramilitary organisation, Russian National Unity and of the
Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine, which despite its name is allied
with the Eurasian Youth Union linked to influential Russian fascist
The “mayor” of Slovyansk is Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, a veteran of the
Soviet Union’s war in Afghanistan and formerly the manager of a soap
factory. He is reported to have called on supporters to report
“suspicious people”, particularly Ukrainian-speakers to his militia. And
unknown gunmen claiming to be acting on the orders of Ponomaryov
attacked and robbed Roma families in their homes in April.
We know that the pro-Ukrainian activists involved in the horrendous
clashes in Odessa on 2 May, many of them from football “ultra” firms who
used a football match as a pretext for a planned battle, included Right
Sector fighters – the fascist organisation is mourning the death of one
Image used to mobilise Odessa Antimaidan activists on 2 May – with the
black, gold and white flag favoured by Russian fascist groups
But an image distributed by the Odessa Antimaidan “Southern Front”
group, urging “concerned residents” to mobilise on 2 May and “defend
Odessa together”, portrays masked fighters with the black, gold and
white flag used by Russian fascists.
Importantly, this is not to say that all or even most of those who
support or have been involved in the Antimaidan movement are fascists –
of course most are in no way fascist. Among the Antimaidan activists who
met such horrendous deaths on 2 May were an elected Odessa councillor
from the mainstream Party of Regions and an activist from the small
fringe leftist group Borotba, which has involved itself in Antimaidan.
Most of the Antimaidan supporters – like most of Euromaidan’s
supporters – are motivated by genuine anger at the collapsing economy
and the corrupt political system. In addition, as an opinion poll
carried out in the eight provinces of south and east Ukraine by the Kiev
International Institute of Sociology(KIIS) in the second week of April
found, only a third of people in these regions believe the new
government is legitimate.
This is not surprising: the Kiev government came to power in the wake of
Euromaidan – a movement that won little support in the south and eastern
regions of Ukraine, where the Russian-speaking population is
concentrated and where cultural and economic ties to Russia are
But it is worth noting that just 12% of those polled supported the
paramilitaries’ seizure of key buildings.
In fact the two main worries expressed in the survey were “rampant
banditry” (43%) and the collapse of the economy (39%). These were
followed by the threat of civil war (32%) and non-payment of salary and
It seems likely that these fears are shared by people in the west and
central regions too.
Strikingly, the poll also revealed a real desire to tackle the tiny
oligarchy that controls Ukraine’s economy – and most of its politicians.
It found that nationalising the property of the oligarchs was supported
by 24% with another 41% backing the nationalisation of property they had
But neither Euromaidan, nor the pro-Russian movement in the east has
raised the sort of politics and demands that could unite workers across
They remain entrenched in the traditional political divide – formerly
expressed in voting for parties aligned with the two wings of Ukraine’s
oligarchy: one whose interests lie with the EU and the other whose
interests are closely tied to Russia.
Now this dead-end politics has been militarised. And this has a dynamic
of its own – one that is spiralling out of control as the formal state
structures implode helplessly.
Although the mass Euromaidan movement dispersed after the fall of
Yanukovych, the paramilitary Self Defence and Right Sector forces did
not demobilise. In several cities they have been carrying out
“patrols” – with and without local police – as well as staging
robberies, carrying out beatings, raids and racist attacks and attacking
politicians and state officials.
A human rights group, the Information Group on Crimes Against the
Person, has collated a list of those incidents that appeared in local
newspapers. It also notes a so-far smaller number of violent offences
carried out by the Antimaidan side.
In western and eastern Ukraine in turn, government buildings and police
stations have readily been captured by whichever group lays siege to
them. The Kiev government admits it cannot control the situation in the
Neither Washington nor Moscow
Outside Ukraine, the wolves are at the door. The major imperial blocs –
Russia on one side and the US and EU on the other – are playing out
their rivalry in Ukraine, long a bloody battleground for rival
Neither Washington nor Moscow has anything positive to offer people in
Ukraine. Both sides are interested only in carving up the world in the
interests of their own capitalist blocs and at the expense of ordinary
Ukraine is of much greater strategic and economic importance to Russia.
So Russia is ready for large-scale military intervention. It has some
40,000 troops mustered on the border and prepared to invade at any time,
threatening a devastating and bloody war.
The US/EU side is concerned primarily with blocking Russia’s expansion –
it’s own imperial “backyard” lies elsewhere. The US and EU intervention
in Ukraine, corresponding to its level of interest in Ukraine, has so
far been softer, with sanctions rather than tanks the main instrument –
although this could change as the crisis escalates, especially if Russia
moves in. Socialists in the NATO countries should be ready to protest at
any sign of the US or EU moving towards direct military action.
The US and EU provided high-level and very public support for the
Euromaidan politicians, well ahead of the fall of Yanukovych. Here we
see the Euromaidan leaders, including Svoboda fascist Oleh Tyahnibok,
with EU officials and senior US representatives.
And the Western powers were swift to recognise the new government –
regardless of the fact that it is regarded as illegitimate by many
people in Ukraine.
The new government’s accession to power was marked immediately by a
$27bn IMF loan – complete with an austerity package which, Kiev
announced, includes a 50% hike in domestic gas prices from 1 May.
Ukraine’s workers are set to pay the price.
The US is involved in military activity too. CIA chief John Brennan made
a very public visit to Kiev in April – although in the Western media
this passed without adverse comment. US paratroops are on manoeuvres in
Poland and the US is supplying supposedly “non-lethal” assistance to the
No one should be taken in by the hypocrisy of the US and European
leaders who think it’s fine for them to wage war in Iraq, yet oppose
invasion by Russia. But nor should we fall into the trap of excusing
Russian intervention – in this system of rivalry, there is no good
As the death toll from fighting inside Ukraine mounts, with each side
receiving the backing of the rival imperialist powers, the propaganda
war will step up.
But there is no good side to choose. Neither set of reactionary
paramilitary groups – nor their rival imperialist backers in Washington
or Moscow – offers anything other than division and the threat of
Ordinary working class people across Ukraine will pay a heavy price if
the country is torn apart.