Ukraine: As Kiev military inflicts fresh bloodshed in east, Australia pushes Western intervention

Ukraine government troops mass for an offensive in the east in April.

Ukraine army blocks access to Malaysia Airlines crash site

STOP PRESS, July 29, 2014: Roger Annis reports that there has been “constant and heavy shelling” by the Ukraine army during the past two days on the towns and villages in Donetsk region surrounding the crash site of MH17. The site was turned over to international investigators four days ago by Donetsk self-defence fighters, but the investigators have not been able to access it due to military operations of the Ukraine army. "Self-defence fighters say the army controls the area surrounding the site. There are no observers present." Read more HERE.

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By Tony Iltis

July 28, 2014 -- Green Left Weekly -- Malaysian Airlines lost its second Boeing 777 this year on July 17, when flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was apparently hit by a missile over war-torn eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. The incident happened while the Ukrainian army was carrying out a huge land and air offensive to crush breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine, over whose territory the plane was shot down.

Most passengers were Dutch, but 38 Australians were also killed.

Immediately after the tragedy, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott became one of the first world leaders to blame Russia.

On July 18, he said: “This aircraft didn’t come down through accident. It was shot down. It did not crash, it was downed and it was downed over territory controlled by Russian backed rebels. It was downed by a missile which seems to have been launched by Russian backed rebels ...

“This really is a test for Russia ... how transparent and fair dinkum is it going to be? There can be no excuses. No buck-passing. No blame shifting.”

The US government joined Abbott in blaming Russia, with the Western media largely not questioning their assumptions, despite the facts being unclear.

Abbott and foreign minister Julie Bishop also took the lead in accusing Russia and its alleged eastern Ukrainian "proxies" of hampering investigation of the disaster and in stopping the repatriation of dead passengers.

In Washington on July 21, Bishop accused Russia of using the bodies “as hostages and pawns”, the Australian Bbroadcasting Corporation reported.

Again, other Western leaders and media followed suit. On July 22, Abbott announced “Operation Bring Them Home” and despatched former head of the Australian Defence Force (ADF), retired air chief marshal Angus Houston, to Europe to coordinate the operation.

The Russian media has provided a mirror image to Western coverage ― seeking to prove the attack was the Ukrainian government’s crime.

The US and European Union have responded by placing sanctions on Russia.

Military intervention

On July 25, Abbott again escalated tensions. With an Australian Federal Police contingent ready to be deployed in the eastern Ukraine for Operation Bring Them Home, Abbott announced their numbers would be raised to 150 and they would be accompanied by a small number of armed ADFpersonnel.

Abbott is now involving Australian forces in Ukraine's civil war, which is usually explained in the West as a covert Russian operation.

The July 18 Kiev Post put the civilian death toll from Ukraine’s conflict at 550, excluding those on the airliner and those killed in Crimea, Odessa and western Ukraine. This means most of that figure comes from the Ukrainian government's land and air offensive to retake the breakaway republics.

The death toll of combatants is higher.

The Western media has mostly uncritically backed allegations MH17 was shot down by the armed rebels of the eastern Ukrainian republics with a Russian-supplied weapon. But such claims have no more credibility than Russia's.

Casualties of a war

One thing that is clear is that the large-scale land and air war makes eastern Ukraine an extremely dangerous place for civilian airliners.

As the breakaway republics are not internationally recognised, it is the Kiev authorities that are responsible for Ukrainian airspace. these authorities directed MH17 on its fatal flightpath.

Whoever shot down the plane, it was unlikely to have been deliberate. No party had any motive to destroy a civilian airliner.

As the breakaway republics have faced aerial bombardments, their forces are using anti-aircraft weapon. Several Ukrainian military aircraft have been shot down by the separatists before and after the MH17 tragedy.

This means it may well have been eastern Ukrainian forces who accidentally shot down MH17.

The Western narrative assumes Russia gave them the means to bring down the plane. A Boeing 777 at cruising altitude cannot be reached by most anti-aircraft weapons.

However, both Russia and Ukraine have the SA11/Buk system that is raised as the likely weapon.

The breakaway People's Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk emerged from the disintegration of the Ukrainian state. Rebel armed forces may well have secured Ukrainian military weapons.

Moreover, the SA11/Buk system includes missile launching units and radar units to guide the missiles. If the separatists gained possession of a Buk missile launching unit, but not the radar, they would have been shooting blind, putting any civilian plane in the area at risk.

Who fired the fatal shot may never be known, but those killed were casualties of a war that has been raging for months.

A dangerous escalation in Western involvement was announced with the July 22 Washington Times reporting a team of US military advisors was heading to Ukraine to bolster the Kiev government’s armed forces.

Although the mission was planned before MH17 was shot down, the tragedy was raised as justification.

Historic conflicts

The disintegration of the Ukraine began with the overthrow of the kleptocratic elected president Viktor Yanukovich on February 21.

But the Ukrainian state was already far from stable. The different regions of Ukraine have had very different histories, reflected in significant regional differences in language and religion.

The first bid to create an independent Ukrainian state came at the end of World War I. Western Ukraine declared independence from Austria-Hungary, but was invaded by Poland. The Russian-ruled east, meanwhile, was a battleground in the Russian civil war, ending up a republic of the Soviet Union.

The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was technically an independent state. In the mid-1920s, this had some reality, with the government promoting the Ukrainian language, making it the language of mass literacy.

But under Joseph Stalin's bureaucratic dictatorship, the disappearance of democracy made Ukraine’s autonomy politically irrelevant.

As the agricultural heartland of the Soviet Union, Ukraine suffered from Stalin's forced collectivisation of agriculture. As its industrial heartland it experienced an influx of people from the rest of the Soviet Union, particularly Russia.

The second bid to create an independent Ukrainian nation-state came via far-right nationalists in the 1940s. Aligned to the Nazi German invaders, this movement had its own agenda.

Based in the formerly-Polish west of the country, it collaborated in German atrocities against Soviet partisans, Roma and Jews, but it especially targeted Poles.

Most Ukrainians opposed the German occupation and the right-wing nationalists, despite some opposition to Soviet rule. Support for the Soviet Union was strongest in the industrialised east.

After World War II, all of Ukraine became part of the Soviet Union. Ukraine finally became independent in 1991 when the Soviet Union disintegrated.

Economic looting

Since independence, the country has been systematically looted by its elite composed of former Soviet bureaucrats and gangsters turned politicians and oligarchs. The July 21 Guardian said Yanukovich had personally looted £18 billion a year.

Foreign capitalists also looted Ukraine, and the uprising that overthrew Yanukovich began as a dispute over foreign policy. Since the end of the Cold War, Russian economic and political influence in Ukraine has met increasing Western competition.

Ukraine’s heavy industrial sector remains oriented to Russia and other former Soviet republics, but neoliberal policies have increasingly opened Ukraine to Western capital.

The Ukrainian kleptocracy sees this as an international competition as opportunity for personal financial gain, so has generally tried to balance Russian and Western influence.

Yanukovich spent most of his rule promoting a free trade association with the EU. When, on the eve of signing, he ditched the deal for a better offer from Russia, a protest camp sprang up in Kiev’s Maidan Square in support of the EU agreement. This was the catalyst for the Maidan movement that brought down Yanukovich.

Hatred of Yanukovich was universal throughout Ukraine, but the Maidan movement was largely based in Kiev and the rural west.

Manipulation of Maidan by Western powers was proved when Russian intelligence leaked bugged conversations of US diplomats plotting to put Arseniy Yatsenyuk into power. After the Yanukovich regime fell, Yatsenyuk became prime minister.

Russian media portrayed the fall of Yanukovich as a US-backed neo-Nazi coup.

Maidan was a spontaneous mass movement against an oppressive and unjust regime. But just as there was some truth to allegations of US involvement, there was also neo-Nazi involvement. Maidan was heavily influenced by extreme right-wing groups.

The Yatsenyuk government is dominated by oligarch politicians, pro-Western liberals and far-right nationalists.

The Anti-Maidan movement is based in the industrial east. Both local elites and workers stood to lose by the EU agreement, which threatened Russian-oriented heavy industry.

The Russian media's portrayal of Anti-Maidan as a mass popular movement has more truth to it than the Western media description of it as a Russian intervention.

But both narratives ignore the fact that, while the biggest oligarchs, even some in the east, supported the Kiev government’s support for EU-pushed neoliberal measures, some eastern economic interests and significant sections of the state opposed it.

Russian support for Anti-Maidan was largely responsive to the Kyic regime's aggressive stance.

Ongoing offensive

Mass support for Anti-Maidan grew after a far-right pro-Maidan mob burned to death 38 Anti-Maidan protesters in a trade union building.

On May 11, Anti-Maidan politicians in Lugansk and Donetsk held referenda to establish breakaway republics with the aim of joining Russia. Putin had asked the Anti-Maidan politicians not to go ahead with the vote.

Elections held in the rest of Ukraine on May 25 elected oligarch Petro Poroshenko president. His first act was to sign the EU agreement.

In the aftermath of the MH17 tragedy, government forces continued their offensive to wipe out the breakaway republics. On July 26, the BBC reported that more than 200,000 refugees had fled, mostly to Russia. Human Rights Watch reported more civilian casualties.

Meanwhile, Yatsenyuk resigned on July 25 after two coalition partners, mindful of parliamentary elections, refused to pass unpopular measures to hand Ukraine's energy sector to Western corporations.

Now, growing Western military intervention is being added to this mix of bloody conflict and economic and political instability.

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From GLW issue 1018


26 July 2014

From the Rabkor (Worker Correspondent, Russia) site,

Residents of cities in western Ukraine are protesting against
the mobilisation declared by President Petro Poroshenko.
Mothers and wives of conscripts are organising pickets, are writing letters
to official bodies, and have even begun to ransack military registration

The site reports that in the town of Bohorodchany
in Ivano-Frankivsk Province, not far from the presidential residence in
Guta, angry people yesterday attacked the military registration office and
the premises of other local organs of power.

On the same day soldiers' mothers linked arms and formed a human
chain and blocked the road from Ivano-Frankivsk to Bohorodchany, causing a
kilometre-long traffic jam. The protestoers held placards reading: "No
Afghanistan in Ukraine!" and "Send call-up notices to the children of the
higher-ups!" Also staging protests were mothers in the towns of Yaremche in
Ivano-Frankivsk Province and Sambir in Lviv Province.

In Chernivtsi Province protests against the enforced
mobilisation seized an entire region. The latest group of fifty call-up
notices received by residents of the village of Voloka aroused outrage among
the population. As reported by the television channel Chernivetskyi-Promin,
not only men were called up but also women medics.

Residents of six villages in Sokyryanskyi Region (Bilousivka,
Lomachyntsi, Mykhalkove, Serbychany, Korman and Romankivtsi) blocked the
highway between Chernivtsi and Novodnistrovsk on the morning of 25 July,
demanding that the government and the military authorities not send men to
the war. People from other settled areas supported the protest. Roads in the
region were closed, and public transport was blocked.

In the settlement of Marshintsi in the Novoselytskyy region of
Chernivtsi Province, protesters blocked the entry of soldiers and police.
Residents brought tyres and barricaded the road leading into the village.
Nor were the male population in any hurry to go to war. Many wrote letters
of refusal, describing the events in the south-east as a "slaughter".

It was also reported yesterday that relatives of participants in
the "anti-terrorist operation" had blocked the Obukhiv highway near Kyiv.
Traffic banked up for several hundred metres in the direction of Obukhiv.

In Mykolaiv yesterday soldiers'
mothers and wives blocked the Varvarovsky Bridge. The women went on foot to
the bridge carrying placards reading "Save our boys!", and began moving
continuously over the pedestrian crossing. Traffic banked up on both sides
of the bridge.

On 20 July the Kyiv-Chop highway was blocked by local residents,
mainly women, in the vicinity of the village of Hamaliivka near Lviv. The
protesters were opposing the sending of their children to south-eastern

We recall that in mid-July the families of soldiers taking part
in the "special operations" in eastern Ukraine also gathered outsisde the
military registration office and barracks in Yavoriv in Lviv Province,
demanding that their relatives be returned home.

Meanwhile, the well-known Ukrainian television journalist and
commentator Ostap Drozdov yesterday called for a boycott on the mobilization
declared in Ukraine.

The Russkaya Vesna site reported Drozdov as saying:

"My program yesterday (on the regional television channel ZIK)
can be considered the start of an informal campaign to boycott the
mobilisation. I state my intention to give my utmost support to this
initiative, which goes by the provisional name 'Mobilisation Equals

The journalist advises civilians who have received call-up
notices, but who from all indications are not ready to be drafted into the
war, to unite their forces "along with their relatives, their mothers and
wives, and all decent people who think as they do that untrained people
should not be thrown into battle against an army of hired killers backed by
a nuclear power."

Drozdov urged "all those people who care about this to start a
Facebook group, that over time should grow into a broad public campaign.

"It is very important," he said, "that people who speak out
against the mobilisation of the civilian population should see that they are
not isolated, that there are a great many of them."

Translation: Renfrey Clarke