Ukraine - war clouds gather

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Neo-Nazis and extreme-right protesters in Ukraine

Lenin said that imperialism ushers in an era of wars and revolution - this now has substance – menacingly so. The deployment of Russian troops in Crimea and battleships off Crimea’s coast signals that the Russian ruling class views the 23 February coup in the Ukraine to be a strategic threat. The US funded and backed the coup. US strategy is to weaken Russia’s central state and fragment Russia. More immediately, in Ukraine the US wants to remove Russia’s naval base from Sevastopol in Crimea, break Russian military ties to industries in eastern Ukraine, bring Ukraine into the European Union and eventually into NATO, and station NATO missiles on Ukrainian territory. When the Russian parliament voted unanimously on 1 March 2014 to deploy Russian troops in Ukraine, Russia’s rulers showed their intention to resist and reverse the US encroachment into the territories of the former Soviet Union, which they consider their sphere of influence.

Before and since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US and European ruling classes have schemed to bring central and eastern European and former Soviet states under their control. What has happened in Ukraine is an extension of the strategy that led to wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. It is a strategy that has mobilised reactionary gangs in an attempt to overthrow the Bolivarian government in Venezuela. Imperialist states are fighting to control the world and the US ruling class seeks global hegemony; it will not tolerate rivals - globally or regionally. In the Ukraine the US has helped and used fascist organisations. US President Obama warned, ‘There will be costs to any military intervention in Ukraine’ and with brazen hypocrisy said that Russia must ‘respect the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine’. Russia’s foreign ministry said that it would ‘react without compromise to the violation of [its compatriots’] rights’. These compatriots include the people of Crimea and eastern Ukraine. The Russian government may have decided to claim Crimea for Russia. The possibility of an armed confrontation between the US and Russia has drawn ominously closer.

US Under-Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland, in a speech made in December 2013, said that the US had spent $5bn to bring the Ukraine into the EU. Much of the money will have been passed through NGOs set up in the Ukraine by the US and EU. In 2004 the US spent $14m on Ukraine’s elections. On 7 February 2014 the BBC published a transcript of a recorded telephone conversation between Nuland and the US Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt. In the conversation Nuland remarked ‘Fuck the EU!’ condemning European Union reluctance to impose harsher sanctions on Ukraine. Considering with whom to replace President Yanukovych Nuland opined, ‘I think Yats [Yatsenink] is the guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience.’ Following the removal of Yanukovych’s government, Arseniy Yatsenink was made Prime Minister, with a constitution that reduces presidential power. Germany has been at pains to assure Russia that it is not seeking to draw Ukraine into the EU.

Right wing and fascists lead protests

On 21 November 2013 President Yanukovych refused to sign the proposed EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, thereby indicating that he favoured Ukraine joining a Russian-led Eurasian (customs) Union which would cement Russia at the centre of a trade bloc, of which Ukraine would be an integral part. The refusal to sign the Agreement was the trigger for the protest camp in Kiev’s Maidan (Independence) Square. Nuland and Pyatt toured the camp in December 2013; they cannot have failed to notice the banners and portraits of fascists, past and present, as they did so. Nuland met with Oleh Tyahnbok, leader of the Svoboda (Freedom) Party. The European Parliament designated Svoboda ‘racist, anti-semitic and xenophobic’. It is aggressively Russophobic. France’s then National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen was guest of honour at Svoboda’s 2004 congress. Svoboda occupies 8% of Ukraine’s parliamentary seats and won two million votes in the 2012 elections. Svoboda wants to remove monuments to former Soviet heroes, rename streets, abolish Crimea’s autonomous status and reintroduce religious affiliation and ethnicity on Ukraine’s identity documents. Tyahnbok described the former Ukrainian government as a ‘Muscovite-Jewish conspiracy’. Svoboda proclaims Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevych as national heroes. These were collaborators with Nazi Germany. On 1 January 2014 15,000 people marched through Kiev in a torch-lit procession celebrating Bandera. Some of the marchers wore the uniform of the Nazi Wehrmacht Kiev Ukrainian Division. Others carried the red and black flag of the Nazi-collaborating Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), of which Bandera and Shukhevych were commanders. The co-founder of Svoboda, Andriy Parubiy, has been made Secretary of the Security and National Defence Committee by Ukraine’s new government.

When the Nazis launched Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, attacking the Soviet Union, many Ukrainians supported the invasion. Stepan Bandera was the leader of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), an ultra-nationalist fascist organisation that was set up in 1929. It split in 1940, with both sections fighting for a fascist Europe and collaborating with the Nazis. However, Bandera's side of the split not only collaborated with the Nazis during World War Two and controlled the fascist Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), but they actively aided the ethnic cleansing of Jews, Poles and Russians in the Ukraine. In Volhynia, Bandera's forces participated in massacring Poles. Estimates range from 30,000-40,000 Poles being exterminated, several estimates reach 100,000 and more Poles killed in the west of Ukraine. According to Soviet figures the OUN participated in the Nazi murder of 900,000 Jewish people.

The OUN received CIA funding after the Second World War; they organised anti-communist activities outside of Ukraine and worked with the Miami Mafia and other Cuban exiles. In 2010, President Yuschenko, brought to power via the Orange revolt in 2004, gave Bandera the posthumous award of Hero of Ukraine, along with Symon Petliura (an anti-communist who fought against the Bolsheviks in 1917 and who was connected to various pogroms) and Yehven Konovalets (founder of OUN). This is the political trend that survived in Ukraine since 1945 which was mobilised to bring down the Ukrainian government.

Natalia Vitrenko, chair of the Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine issued a statement on 18 February, ‘Across the country... People are being beaten and stoned, while undesirable members of the Verkhovna Rada [parliament] of Ukraine are subject to mass intimidation and local officials see their families and children targeted by death threats if they do not support the installation of this new political power. The new Ukrainian authorities are massively burning the offices of political parties they do not like, and have publicly announced the threat of criminal prosecution and prohibition of political parties and public organizations that do not share the ideology and goals of the new regime.’

Over 80 people were killed and hundreds injured (including government police) in the protests before the coup. The racism of the right-wing groups and parties, drawn from the west of Ukraine, could be disastrous for the country and the region. On 23 February the parliament passed a law removing Russian as an official language. Russian is the first language of a fifth or more of Ukraine’s people, mainly in the east. Ukraine’s Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman called on Jewish people in Kiev to leave the city, and the country if possible, citing ‘constant warnings concerning intentions to attack Jewish institutions’. A synagogue was attacked with a fire-bomb.

No future in the EU

Writing in Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! the RCG said, ‘The Ukrainian people are lured by the prospect of EU membership and life-styles that imperialist global plunder affords if they ally with the EU and US. But it is not democracy and freedom that are on offer. Their anger at the corrupt Ukrainian state is justified, but the imperialists have calculated that it will lead them into a trap,’ (FRFI 182, December 2004/January 2005). Following Yanukovych’s departure, the Ukrainian parliament stated that it sought ‘integration with the European Union’. The EU and imperialism would loot and plunder Ukraine, as they have Greece and Spain. Public services would be cut, wages slashed, unemployment driven up, banks descending like vultures, multinational corporations picking the bones of Ukraine’s industry, land would be privatised and sold to foreign companies.

Buying Ukraine is going to cost a lot more than $5bn that Nuland said the US had spent. Zbigniew Brzezinski, writing in the Financial Times warns, ‘But even more urgent is the need for the EU to formulate a significant financial emergency package for the Ukraine. Otherwise, the country will plunge into financial destructive chaos.’ (24 February 2014). Brzezinski advises that ‘the lead in Europe should be taken by Germany and Britain’, the latter, he reasons, being a financial haven for Ukrainian oligarchs. Britain and Germany are adamant that the lead in providing any package should be the International Monetary Fund. Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, said, ‘We need to operate under the rules and that means that there are important economic rules that need to be started.’ Ukraine’s acting finance minister, Yuriy Kolobov, said his country needed $35bn in aid over two years. Ukraine is thought to require $24bn to cover its budget deficit, debt repayments, natural gas bills and pensions in 2014 alone. In September 2013 Moody’s rating agency classified Ukraine’s credit as being of poor quality and a very high credit risk.

There will be no aid to Ukraine, no money will be given; money is given to Israel and Egypt, not Ukraine. Instead there will be offers of loans with hard terms attached, starting with the removal of heating and fuel subsidies. Ukraine has $17bn in currency reserves, down from $20.4bn at the end of 2013. The country is losing $3bn a month due to withdrawals of deposits and foreign exchange; bankruptcy looms.

Ukraine has 46 million people, about a quarter of them exist below the poverty line. Since it became independent in 1991 there have been several years of economic collapse: Gross Domestic Product fell 23% in 1994 and 15% in 2009. Ukraine’s GDP per capita is $3,867, (a little above that of Syria), while that of neighbouring Poland is $12,708. Multinational corporations will eye the prospects of buying up Ukraine’s industry and exploiting its cheap labour. In 2013 the Ukrainian government signed a shale exploration deal with Royal Dutch Shell for $10bn, the largest ever foreign direct investment in the Ukraine.

Russian Prime Minister Medvedev said that the next tranche of $15bn in purchases of Ukraine’s bonds, that was promised, had been put on hold. Ukraine imports 90% of its oil and most of its natural gas, mainly from Russia. Along with the $15bn, Russia has been selling Ukraine gas at 30% below market prices; this could be ended. In 2006 and 2009 Russia cut off Ukraine’s gas supplies, forcing it to comply with Russian policies. More than 60% of Ukraine’s exports go to former Soviet states, especially to Russia. Russia has considerable economic leverage it can apply over any Ukrainian government.

Russia will not give up its Sevastopol naval base and it will vehemently oppose any attempt to make Ukraine join NATO. If the fascists start attacking the Russian-origin people the Russian state would be obliged to intervene militarily to maintain its regional and global credibility.                  

Oligarchs

Britain’s role in the ouster of Yanukovych has still to be fully revealed. However, much of Ukraine’s wealth resides in London. As of 2008 Ukraine’s wealthiest 50 oligarchs accounted for 85% of the country’s GDP. These fortunes were stolen from Ukraine’s people through the privatisation of state owned assets in the 1990s. The wealthiest oligarch, Rinat Akmetov, owns a three-storey penthouse at One Hyde Park, bought for £136m. Akmetov controls nearly half of Ukraines’ coal, steel and thermoelectricity sectors and he backed Yanukovych. Viktor Pinchuk, ‘steel magnate and philanthropist’ also resides in London; his philanthropy extends to Tony Blair’s Faith Foundation, (Daily Telegraph, 23 February 2014). The former Ukraine Prime Minister, previously gaoled for embezzling state funds, Yulia Tymoshenko, thought to be among Ukraine’s wealthiest individuals, has invested in property in London. The US threatened the oligarchs with sanctions that would seize Ukrainian’s overseas assets. No doubt the oligarchs, who fund most of Ukraine’s political parties, advised by the British state, decided that it was time for Yanukovych to go – to protect their fortunes.  

With Russian troops controlling Crimea, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that the British government supports the new Ukrainian government’s request for discussions around the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, signed by Britain, the US, Russia and Ukraine, promising to uphold Ukraine’s territorial integrity. The Russian rulers have seen what respect for territorial integrity the US and Britain have in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and now Ukraine. When Soviet President Gorbachev agreed to dismantle the Warsaw Pact defence alliance, the US government assured him that no European socialist or Soviet Union countries would join NATO. To date Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia have all joined NATO – Georgia was encouraged to join.  

In 2008 Georgia, at US instigation, attacked South Ossetia and Russia responded militarily, driving Georgian forces back to the capital Tblisi. Russian President Putin explained, ‘What did you expect us to do? Respond with a catapult? We punched the aggressor in the face, as all the military textbooks prescribe.’ He accused the US of behaving like a ‘Roman emperor’ and warned about NATO stationing missiles close to Russia’s border, ‘Please do not start an arms race in Europe. It is not needed. What should we do? Sit pretty while they deploy missiles?’ The Russian ruling class demonstrated that it had had enough of retreating before the US and NATO bullies, and they have landed another blow in Crimea.

Between 1854 and 1856 Britain and France fought Russia in the Crimean War. The primary British concern in this period was to prevent Russia gaining influence in the Mediterranean Sea and control over the Black Sea straits. There is an old Russian saying, ‘Repetition is the mother of learning’ – looking at Crimea and Syria today, Russia’s rulers have learned. Whatever happens in the Ukraine tomorrow, war is looming over the horizon.

Trevor Rayne

 

 

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