Boris Kagarlitsky: Eastern Ukraine people’s republics between militias and oligarchs

Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal has published various left viewpoints from the region on the political situation in Ukraine. These do not necessarily represent the views of the publishers.

For more by Boris Kagarlitsky, click HERE.

By Boris Kagarlitsky, Moscow; translated by Renfrey Clarke

August 16, 2014 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The war between the Ukraine government and the republics of Novorossiya [New Russia] is gradually taking on the character of a positional stand-off. The resources of both sides are exhausted, and fighting reserves are at an end. For the people’s republics, defending themselves against the many times larger military forces of the Kiev regime, the well-known principle of “a government needs to win, but for an insurrection it is enough not to lose” operates with full force.

The deteriorating economic situation in Ukraine, the growing demoralisation of supporters of the Kiev regime and the gradual development of a partisan movement on government-controlled territory together herald a new phase in a civil war that will clearly extend far beyond the boundaries of the south-east.

The middle of August marked the failure of the latest offensive by the government’s army (most likely, the last offensive in Kiev’s summer campaign). It is significant that during the previous offensive the main Western mass media, while assiduously denying their readers any real information about the war, suddenly began running reports of successes by the government’s army. Just as occurred last time, the optimistic forecasts have been followed by silence. The failure of the second offensive followed exactly the same scenario as that of the first: the attacking forces were cut off from their bases, and finished up surrounded. The virtual victories turned into a real catastrophe. A war cannot be won in the information space if you are getting beaten on land.

There might seem to be every reason to speak of positive prospects for the people’s republics of Novorossiya. But against the background of military victories a political and administrative crisis is unfolding, creating new dangers which, if they are not more perilous than those associated with the attacks by government forces, are no less serious either.

Over several weeks the entire leadership of the Donetsk and Lugansk republics has effectively been replaced. The most momentous, and unexpected, development has been the ousting of the military leader of the militias, Igor Strelkov. In the best Soviet traditions, the announcement was couched in terms of his “transfer to other work”. The decision was made at a time when Strelkov was in Moscow, far from his troops.

Strelkov’s removal from his post is an obvious act of revenge on the part of those very Kremlin forces on whom the leader of the militias had inflicted a serious political defeat in early July. Militia units, after conducting a heroic two-month defence of Slavyansk, had broken through encircling Ukrainian forces and made their way to Donetsk, where political figures linked to the Kremlin were already planning to surrender the city to the Kiev government. The arrival of the militias was accompanied by a radical purge in the structures of power. No one repressed the conspirators, but all were forced one after another to sign letters of resignation. They then left the city without excessive fuss, some of them setting off for Moscow and others for Kiev. This occurred against a background of growing political radicalisation within the movement. In August, a joint letter had been published by rank-and-file militia fighters demanding that the slogan of “social republics” that had been proclaimed in Donetsk and Lugansk should be put into effect, that the property of oligarchs should be nationalised and that reforms should be enacted in the interests of workers. The post of chair of the Supreme Soviet was taken by Boris Litvinov, a communist who had broken with the official leadership of the party. A law was adopted reversing the commercialisation of health care that had been initiated by the previous leaders, and recurrent, though somewhat timid, attempts were made at nationalisation.

For their part, political specialists close to the Kremlin unleashed a campaign against Strelkov in the Russian mass media. The bitterness of the Moscow bureaucrats and their propaganda assistants is understandable: while they were sitting in their cosy offices, drawing up plans and weaving intrigues, the people at the forefront of events were making history without asking their advice.

Paradoxically, it was Strelkov who did most to aid the radicalisation of the process, despite his sympathies for the pre-revolutionary monarchy and nostalgia for the Russian empire. The leader of the militias was not only famed for his honesty and openness (it is enough to recall his detailed accounts of his own difficulties and failures, accounts which contrast sharply with the propaganda from Moscow and Kiev). Strelkov’s political instincts drove him, to a large degree despite his own ideological leanings, to support social and political changes. He and his associates stressed repeatedly that they would not allow Novorossiya to be transformed into a second edition of pre-Maidan Ukraine, directly contradicting the strategy of the Kremlin, which sought precisely that.

Unlike other Donetsk and Lugansk leaders, who travelled constantly to Moscow to beg for assistance (for the most part in vain), the commander of the militias was to be found with his troops in the line of battle. There, as practice showed, it was safer for him politically than in the Moscow corridors of power.

How Strelkov was lured to Moscow, and what was done to him there in order to extract from him his “voluntary” resignation (if in fact he signed such a statement at all), we can only guess. He may have been threatened with a complete halt to Russian supplies to the liberated territories of Novorossiya. To a substantial degree, this dependency of the people’s republics on outside supplies is a result of inept management by the people whom Strelkov removed from their posts in July and early August – they were unable, or refused, to organise the economy in the rear, and to ensure the normal distribution of resources. By August a situation had arisen in which the republics were threatened with disaster unless shipments of food and ammunition were brought from Russia. More than likely, it was this lever that was used by the Kremlin intriguers to get rid of Strelkov.

One way or another, the conservative forces took their revenge, and the Donetsk military leader was removed. People suspected of links to the oligarchs were appointed to a series of key posts. In Moscow during these very days the Ukrainian politician Oleg Tsarev, representing no one and driven out of Donetsk by the militia fighters, unfurled a “new flag of Novorossiya”. For some reason this was an upside-down version of the old imperial banner, and was obviously meant as a counterbalance to the flag, dark red with a cross of St Andrew, under which the militia are fighting.

The Russian press is already reporting openly on an agreement reached between the Moscow bureaucrats and the Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov. In the best traditions of the ancien régime, the Kremlin bureaucracy has decided to sacrifice the liberated territories to its new vassal, in exchange for his services as a mediator in its relations with Kiev and prospectively, the West. At the same time, contacts are being revived between Russian and Ukrainian diplomats, and lively discussions are under way on the ultimate fate of the south-east. After the failure of its latest offensive, and faced with growing internal difficulties, Kiev might well be ready to strike a deal.

The only thing the authors of this scenario have not taken into account is the thinking of the people of Novorossiya and Ukraine, along with the moods of Donetsk residents and the overall logic of a revolutionary process into which Russian society too is gradually being drawn. The militia fighters and activists who, beneath the bombs, are constructing a new state are no longer prepared to be docile agents of outside decision making, no matter where, in Moscow or Kiev, the decisions alien to their interests are being taken. In Novorossiya, the idealistic sympathies with an abstract Russia that characterised the first months of the uprising are now being replaced by a growing hatred for the Kremlin bureaucrats, whom supporters of the republics accuse of sabotage and treason. The same moods are growing, in the fashion of an avalanche, within Russia itself. As for Igor Strelkov, a new group of field commanders is taking his place, in many ways accepting him as an example but differing from him in their far more radical and left-wing views.

Through apparatus intrigues, blackmail and manipulation, it may be possible to achieve tactical successes, and to banish one or another figure from the leadership. But it will not be possible to stop the revolutionary crisis whose development is now gathering strength.


By Svetlana Tsiberganova, translated by Peter Mikhailenko

August 8, 2014 – -- Many are surprised at how quickly Ukrainian society has fallen under the rule of aggressive chauvinistic propaganda and begun to live according to the principles of Orwellian dystopia: “War – is peace! Freedom – is slavery! Democracy – is the limitation of all rights! Freedom of speech – is silence! The victims burned and killed themselves!”[1]

But I've realised that that for some time now, there is nothing surprising about this. 
If we analyse the recent history of “left-wing movement” of Ukraine, it is clear that these cynical principles are the very essence of Ukrainian nationalism. They are shared even among those who would not be expected to succumb to the chauvinist hysteria.
Why did the “left” liberals go to Maidan [Independence Square, Kyiv]? Why did Ukrainian nationalists under the flags of the EU screaming “Pro-Russians to the knives! Death to the enemies!” become, for them, “the people”, while the population of the south-east, singing, "
Arise, great country!"[2] became sovky[3], “cattle” and “Colorado beetles”?[4]

Did the “leftists” not notice the anti-communist rhetoric that was heard everywhere at Maidan? The sincere promises to introduce anti-social reforms immediately after the victory of Maidan – reforms that are being implemented today? The aggression against all those who raised a social agenda? What about the calls to suppress all dissent? And the presence of clericalism that projects women as “helper of men” in the spirit of late Middle Ages chivalry? Was all this not obvious?
For a long time, I was not able to solve this riddle, until I found on my computer a photo from last winter at Maidan. It showed the crowd wiping their feet on the red flag. Then everything became clear.
All the liberals who today actively support the regime of the oligarchs and nationalists have for years been dismissing the left and uprooting and destroying communist symbols. They are no different in this than the brownshirted Ukrainian nationalists. They supported the anti-communist rhetoric, demonising the Soviet past to the extreme. And they have introduced anti-left stock phrases into education and historical sciences in order to steer workers and the masses away from socialism – thus helping the expansion of the right.
How many times, at every May Day organising committee, did I have to defend the main symbol of the international communist and workers' movement – the red flag with the hammer and sickle? There were those who called for its removal, so as not to scare off liberals and nationalists. They did not mind the presence of the red and black flags of anarchists which 100 per cent of the people in Kyiv associate with red-black flags of the ultra-nationalist Bandera movement that dominate everywhere in the streets.
The marginal “left” sectarians actively fought with “authoritarian Stalinism” (which has not existed for decades), while cowardly ignoring the real threat of the rise of Ukrainian ultra-nationalism. Thus, they demonstrated stunning authoritarianism – the likes of which was hard to find even in the regional committees of the Communist Party of Ukraine.
The point is that the Ukrainian “anarchists” (I cannot write the word without adding quotation marks) and “libertarians” became the yes-men for Ukrainian nationalism before it was “cool” to do so. That is, long before the “Euromaidan”.
It is not surprising that today, the liberal lefts do not want to notice the thousands of wounded and murdered civilians in the south-east. After all, it would be terrible to lose the financial backing of European funders and disrupt their habit of not threatening those in power, for example by organising a peaceful anti-war protest in the capital for the mere purpose of stopping the killing of some sovky in the south-east. They are scared by the possibility of being beaten by the rightwing, or face hysterical criticism in their office, or become outcasts in their favourite hipster hangouts. They fear being branded “agents of the FSB” ever since the Ukrainian bourgeois regime began to label anti-war protests as Kremlin-financed provocations. 

It is much easier to get a grant for a round table discussion about the “threat of war”. “Have you heard? We have a war! Shall we get some funding from European sponsors so we can talk about it at a conference?” Meanwhile, every second bus of refugees fleeing Lugansk (if not every bus) comes under attack from the Ukrainian army and right-wing militias at roadblocks and Kyiv “libertarians” collect money for weapons and body armour for the National Guard. 

Worse, a number of so-called anarchists are openly fighting on the side of executioners in the Azov and Donbass battalions, under the command of Nazis who publicly boast they are taught by Swedish racists who brag of murdering Ukrainians.

Isn't that a crime? Do posts in personal blogs about the killing of innocent civilians -- women, children, elderly people and workers -- and calls to end the war really mean support for Putin or separatism? In recent months, none of my “left” liberal friends who brought food for the far-right fighters at Maidan and commemorated the “Heavenly Hundred”[5], have offered a word or even a hint of condemnation of the actions of the Ukrainian army and Ukrainian right-wing militants nor sympathy for their victims.

One of the most popular excuses for war crimes is to blame the people of the Donbas region: “It's their fault -- they haven't kicked the bandits out of Donbas and they provoked the war with their referendum!”[6]

How is a “leftist” writing such stuff any different from the average nationalist fanatic? Let's be honest -- he or she is in no way different.

The vilest thing about the sentimental swamp of left liberalism is its attitude to the Ukrainian political prisoners and refugees, among whom are many of our comrades. Thousands of unjustly (and even randomly) arrested people receive no support from grant-receiving, liberal “human rights” defenders. The principle of the Maidan activists: “Everything … for our people only; for the rest … punishment by law!” People who justify again and again massacres, kidnappings and beatings committed again and again by the supporters of the regime then try to blame their failings on those with different ideological positions and who are engaged in the struggle against war. If this is anarchism, then what is fascism?  
Now I'm at home, in Donbas. Every day, and sometimes all night, we have shooting and shelling. Throughout the city there are men with guns. But for the moment, I feel more or less at peace, for the first time in many months of hard and heavy work. For the first time since the destruction of Borotba's office in Kyiv; since the mass arrests of ordinary people in Kharkiv (many of whom had become my friends); since the attacks on my friends, persecution by police and intelligence services and the attempted kidnapping of my comrade and boyfriend that happened in broad daylight in the center of Kharkiv in May.
We get solidarity from a vast number of people -- partisans of peace, who are often apolitical, in Ukraine and different countries around the world. But to support the opposition to the current regime in Kyiv is too courageous an act for a left liberal. None of them commented on the murder of a member of the Communist Party, Vyacheslav Kovshun, perpetrated by neo-Nazis. Probably because he was not a human being for them, just a member of the “wrong bourgeois Communist Party”, while the Nazis who killed him were “progressive” Maidan activists. None of them said a word about the abduction of another comrade, a communist from Volnovakha, or about the murder of Mariupol journalist Sergey Dolgov. And likewise, they were silent about the assassinations of the opponents to the right regime in Kharkov, Odessa and in the Donbas.
I had hoped that the “left” would take part in anti-war protests by supporting the wives and mothers in western Ukraine protesting against the forced conscription of their husbands and children. But what can you expect from those who do not have the heart to be called a communist, leave alone act as such? From those who consider themselves “leftists” but are amorphous, not aspiring to the responsibility and consciousness of a liberal and who obediently serve the interests of the Nazis and the oligarchs?  
Now my hopes lie with humane and honest people. And I know there are many out there. 
The events of recent days, the protests of mothers and wives of Ukrainian soldiers against conscription or the war, have shown that the Ukrainian workers do not need a glamorous leftist fringe. Ukrainian workers need bold and ideological communists, who will greet the word “leftist” with a kind of contemptuous sneer. The workers need people who are not afraid of the working class and are ready to organise and educate; who don't ask: “Oh, how shall I start a conversation with workers so they don't tell me to go away?” They need people who consider a worker a human being and are not befouled by oligarch propaganda against “quilted jackets
I know these people. Their numbers are growing. The future belongs to them. It is these people who will make Ukraine free and socialist.

[Svetlana Tsiberganova is a member of the left-wing political association in Ukraine called Borotba. She is a native of Donetsk and was a student and resident in Kyiv until recently.]


[1] The latter refers to the excuses of Kyiv supporters for the torching of the trade union building in Odessa on May 2, 2014, that killed more than 40 anti-fascist protesters.

[2] A verse from the popular mobilisation song during WWII calling on the people of Ukraine to fight against fascism.

[3] A pejorative term by modern-day liberals for people who have positive recollections of the former Soviet Union. The literal translation is “'shovel”.

[4] A derogatory term for people who wear the St. George ribbon, which is a symbol of the victory of the Soviet Union over fascism during WWII. The colour of the ribbon is orange with black stripes.

[5] This refers to the rightist protesters who died fighting in Maidan Square in January/February 2014. A "Hundred" is a Ukrainian Cossack term for battalion.

[6] Donbas is the region in south-east Ukraine that includes the oblasts (provinces) of Donetsk and Luhansk. The people there voted in plebiscites in May for political autonomy from the central government in Kyiv.

[7] A derogatory term for Soviet soldiers in WWII, who often wore quilted jackets fo

"Paradoxically, it was Strelkov who did most to aid the radicalisation of the process, despite his sympathies for the pre-revolutionary monarchy and nostalgia for the Russian empire."

No paradox at all. Strelkov's ideology is well in line with that which is dominant in Putin's Russia: A "Eurasianist" neo-conservative revanchism that elevates homophobic patriarchal "family values" via the Russian Orthodox Church, together of course with late-stage decadent capitalism (a.k.a. 'neo-liberalism') Russian-style, here meaning principally as a petro/natgas rentier economy. A sort of Russian-flavored Saudi Arabia. Strelkov logically wants the "full Saudi", theologically-blessed monarchy and all.

Kagarlitsky continues as the "left wing" of the Putin regime. The "revolutionary crisis" that may be gathering strength in Ukraine, though, is not to be principally found in Donbas. It will be found in the western Ukraine in a second Maidan that has woken up to the fact that it has been had by the same gang of oligarchs that it originally rose up against.


This is all very comlicated situation. But it`s obviously to everybody that Ukrainian government is not in favor among Ukrainians. And Donbass insurgents have a tremendous support from people in Eastern Ukraine, that`s fact despite numerous and subsequent tries of Ukrainian puppet-media to hush it up. Reality is very different from what we must see and believe in.


The contradictions in Boris's account of the events in eastern Ukraine are remarkable. Here is a left-wing revolution but is being led by reactionaries like Strelkov. It's a Ukrainian revolution but is being led by Russian who can be appointed or dismissed by Moscow. One doesn't have to be a supporter of the Kiev government to see the problems with this approach. I've no doubt that there's a very strong social opposition to the Kiev government in eastern Ukraine and support for regional autonomy or even independence but, although we have to struggle with misinformation from both the Russian and Western media, it does appear that this social resistance movement has been captured by Russian nationalists just as the democratic opposition to the Yanukovich government was captured by Ukrainian nationalists. In this conflict, the ultra-nationalist militias on both sides are enemies of the left and the labour movement and will pose a real problem for Ukrainian society when this conflict is over, regardless of which side is victorious.

Or perhaps it's the contradictions in reality that are remarkable and
Kagalitsky's account simply reflects this?

Whereas, applying Gus Fagan's methodology to Ukraine in 1919

"... the forces of Nestor Makhno and Nestor Grigoriev pose problems for the Russian Revolution as serious as those posed by White Armies and foreign interventionists. Therefore, under no cirmcumstances, should the Red Army form an alliance with them..."

This of course, was not the approach adopted by Lenin & Trotsky (but they did win the war)

Hello Gus. A long time since Carre St. Louis in Montreal.

I think the contradictions are less in Kagarlitsky's description of events than in the events themselves. You are right about the mass social resistance, a working class resistance, in the Donbass. The fact that a portion, and I emphasis a portion of it, is being lead by Russian nationalists, has more to do with the weakness of the left and the present point in the recomposition of the working class itself, than it does in the telling of the tale. To use a very loose analogy, the fact that the Liberals and Mensheviks had a majority in the Duma after Feb. 1917 did not reflect the depth of the social processes at work.

Your assertion that there was a "democratic" opposition to Yanukovitch is certainly stretching the definition of "democratic". The Maidan from its inception was an overwhelmingly petite bourgeois and bourgeois dominated movement whose political agenda FROM THE START was to get rid of the government and allow for the "turn to Europe".

This is not conjecture, but verified by the ongoing surveys carried out by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology, and by the Center for Society Research. You can find the analysis which I have provided in the response to the article from the Political Bureau of the FI, "Social Movement and Imperialisms", found here at LINKS.

The civil war in Ukraine is a class war. A class war hidden behind a thin Russian nationalist cloak, a class war which unfortunately some of the British left can not seem to recognize. I am glad to see the Irish comrades of the FI, Socialist Democracy, have come around to that viewpoint, a viewpoint shared by the great majority of Fourth Internationalists, broadly speaking (including the Latin American Trotskyists).

As for the future, the biggest problem for the Ukrainian working class will be Euro-American imperialism and its organisms like NATO, the IMF, and the World Bank. But as the working class increases its resistance to the "conditionalities" of imperialism, it will find a way forward with the help of those revolutionary Marxists in Ukraine who know which side they are on.

Permalink | August 19, 2014Share on email
Ukraines next crisis economic disaster

Ukraine’s next crisis will be a devastatingly economic one, as violent conflict destroys critical infrastructure in the east and brings key industry to a halt, furthering weakening the energy sector by crippling coal-based electricity production.

The Ukrainian military’s showdown with separatists in the industrial east has forced coal mines to severely cut production or close down entirely. This has led to an electricity crisis that can only be stanched by cutting domestic production along with exports to Europe, Crimea, and Belarus or, worse, getting more imports from Russia.

In the coal centers of Ukraine’s industrial east—Luhansk and Donetsk—fighting has forced the full closure of an estimated 50 percent of coal mines, while overall coal production has fallen 22 percent over the same period last year.

Key industry sources say they will potentially run out of coal in less than three weeks.

For Ukraine, the second-largest producer of coal in Europe, this will have a devastating impact on the energy sector, which is in a state of emergency, unable to get coal to thermal power plants that provide some 40% of the entire country’s electricity.

In the wider energy picture, the halt of coal production sets Ukraine back a decade. The plan was to rely more on coal in order to reduce dependence on Russian natural gas.

But the new reality has insiders wondering how Ukraine will produce more of its own natural gas, after the implementation earlier this month of an amended tax code that targets private gas producers with a tax so high that they will significantly reduce production through the end of the year and beyond that is anyone’s guess. (Full disclosure: my firm, Pelicourt LLC, is the majority shareholder of Ukraine’s third-largest gas producer, Cub Energy, and I have advised the U.S. and Canadian governments on the potential harm the new tax will cause.)

Economically, the conflict in the east is a disaster for Ukraine, which has traditionally been a net exporter of thermal coal for power generation. Now it will have to increase imports of fuel to make up for the loss. But even then, the destruction of supply routes makes this challenging.

Not only have coal supply routes been destroyed in the conflict, but other critical infrastructure has taken a hit as well, threatening other industries.

Across the board, Ukraine’s industrial heartland is reeling from cut-off supply and shipping chains that threaten to destroy as much as 5 percent of Ukraine’s gross domestic product in the second half of this year.

In the meantime, observers can be forgiven their confusion over various measures Kiev has taken since the intensification of the conflict. Indeed, the signals coming out of Kiev have been mixed, at best.

While parliament has passed a bill allowing for sanctions against Russia, the state-run Naftogaz leadership has been quick to point out that we probably shouldn’t expect sanctions against Russian gas giant Gazprom, and the new bill doesn’t implement sanctions of any kind—it simply makes it legal to slap sanctions on Russian individuals should Kiev decide to do so. Another paper tiger.

Parliament has also adopted a bill approving the joint-venture lease of Ukraine’s gas-transit facilities with Western firms.

At the same time, however, Kiev passed a new amendment to the tax code that doubles taxes for private gas producers and promises to keep Western investors as far away from Ukraine as they can get.

Each move is designed to negate the other. The economy is being destroyed, yet Kiev is itself destroying any chance of bringing in Western investment to prop it up. Western firms are invited to invest in Ukraine, while at the same time Ukraine makes a mockery of transparency and ensures that the investment climate is suddenly even less attractive than it was two weeks ago. Lip service is paid to developing more resources to build energy independence, but a new tax doubles costs for private producers who will stop producing and pick up stakes.

It’s hard not to conclude that Energy Minister Yuriy Prodan is working hard to discourage new investment in the energy sector.