Ukraine: the threat of war

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 238 April/May 2014


By incorporating Crimea and Sevastopol into the Russian Federation, Russia’s rulers have demonstrated that they intend to halt US encroachment into the territories of the former Soviet Union. A referendum was held in Crimea on 16 March to decide on the region’s future. 82% of those eligible to vote took part; of these over 96% voted for unification with Russia. British Foreign Secretary William Hague described the vote as ‘a mockery of democracy’. Hague accused Russia of acting without respect for international law and of conducting a ‘land grab’ in Crimea. How could he justify British possession of the Falkland/ Malvinas Islands and Gibraltar? The states that accuse Russia of occupying Crimea intend to take over Ukraine. TREVOR RAYNE reports.

Britain has invaded Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya and launched over 130 separate military interventions abroad since the end of the Second World War. The British government supported the US-orchestrated February coup in Ukraine, putting an alliance of oligarchs and fascists in power. Hague said ‘international order’ is at stake in Ukraine and Crimea. The order of US, British and European Union (EU) plunder has been challenged. The prospect of even more devastating wars looms closer.

When NATO attacked Yugoslavia in 1999 we wrote: ‘Coming events cast their shadows before them. In NATO’s blitzkrieg of Yugoslavia we see the shape of wars to come. For those who wonder where the war is heading, look to Russia, look to China, look to the re-emergence of German military power, that is where the war is heading,’ (FRFI 148, April/May 1999). The coup in Ukraine is an extension of the imperialist strategy that led to wars in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. Imperialist states are fighting to control the world and the US ruling class seeks global hegemony; it will not tolerate any rival.

The US seeks to weaken Russia’s central state and fragment Russia. It wants to remove Russia’s naval base from Sevastopol in Crimea, break Russian military ties to industries in eastern Ukraine, bring Ukraine into NATO and then the European Union. The US plans to station missiles in Ukraine. When Soviet President Gorbachev agreed to dismantle the Warsaw Pact defence system in 1989-91 the US assured him that no European socialist or Soviet Union countries would join NATO. Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia have all done so. In 1997 the NATO-Ukraine Commission was established to ‘direct co-operative activities’; joint military groups were set up – steps towards NATO membership. If Ukraine joins NATO, all foreign military bases, other than NATO’s, would have to be removed from Ukraine, including the Russian Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol. Sevastopol is crucial for the Russian naval presence in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean and for protecting southern Russia.

On 21 March the new Ukrainian Prime Minister Yatsenyuk signed the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement with provisions for free trade, political association and defence and security arrangements. NATO is to hold a military exercise in Ukraine later this year. US and British troops will participate alongside soldiers from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Canada, Georgia, Germany, Moldova, Poland, Romania and Ukraine. An objective is to improve Ukrainian operability with NATO forces.

Early in March the US sent 12 war planes and hundreds of troops to Poland and announced that an aircraft carrier and its battle group would remain in the Mediterranean. The US ruling class will not relent in its attempt to weaken and subordinate Russia. The Russian ruling class has decided that it cannot retreat any further without succumbing to US and European imperialism.

Creating a monster
Ukraine is the first European government in decades in which openly fascist parties are represented in senior posts. The US Under-Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland, said in December 2013 that the US had spent $5bn to bring Ukraine into the EU. This money was passed through NGOs set up in Ukraine by the US and EU and via Ukrainian oligarchs. Nuland was recorded in early February 2014 saying ‘I think Yats [Yatsenyuk] is the guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience.’ Yatsenyuk was duly made Prime Minister when President Yanukovych fled, pursued by fascist gangs.

Yatsenyuk is a leader of the Fatherland party, of which the former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is a member. Tymoshenko was released from prison on 22 February 2014. She is an oligarch imprisoned for embezzling state funds. This rabid anti-Russian chauvinist was recorded saying ‘it’s about time we grab our guns and go kill those damn Russians together with their leader’. Tymoshenko told the German Bild newspaper that Putin was worse than Hitler. Yatsenyuk is former president of the National Bank of Ukraine, Minister for Energy and Foreign Minister. He worked for Bank Aval, a subsidiary of the Austrian Raiffeisen bank. Raiffeisen expanded its holdings in central and eastern Europe from the 1990s onwards. Yatsenyuk represents international finance.

The Fatherland party is favoured by billionaires, including Victor Pinchuk, Ukraine’s second wealthiest man. Pinchuk owns four television channels and a tabloid newspaper. He is also the boss of EastOne Group, a finance firm based in London. Pinchuk has donated to the Blair Foundation. Other billionaires include the new interim President of Ukraine and Speaker of the Parliament, and the head of the Ukrainian central bank. A coal and steel magnate has been appointed as the new governor of the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine, and Ukraine’s third richest person, Ihor Kolomysky, is the new governor of Dnipopetrovsk, also in the east.

The British media has played down the roles of the Svoboda (Freedom) party, the Right Sector and other fascist organisations in the removal of Yanukovych’s government and in the new Yatsenyuk administration. The Financial Times reported: ‘Kiev radicals hold office but remain politically weak’ (10 March 2014). Martin Wolf asserted, ‘The country rid itself of a predatory gangster. The west should not accept the lie that “fascists” drove this.’ This mouthpiece for the British bourgeoisie is comfortable with fascists on the streets of a European city and in government.

Svoboda’s origins are in the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists which collaborated with the Nazis in the Second World War and participated in the massacres of Jewish and Polish people. The World Jewish Congress designated Svoboda a ‘neo-Nazi’ organisation in May 2013. In April 2013 the President of the World Jewish Congress wrote to the Patriarch of the Ukrainian church after a ceremony held near Lviv in western Ukraine to rebury the remains of members of the Galician Division of the Waffen SS: ‘I was horrified to see photographs of young Ukrainians wearing the dreaded SS uniform with swastikas clearly visible on their helmets as they carried caskets of members of this Nazi unit … and fired salutes in their honour.’ An Orthodox Church priest and a Svobodan MP were present. Galicia was the name of western Ukraine. Oleh Tyanhybok, Svoboda’s leader, described the former Ukrainian government as ‘a Muscovite-Jewish conspiracy’. Tyanhybok’s deputy established the Joseph Goebbels Political Research Centre in 2005. The European Parliament designated Svoboda ‘racist, anti-semitic and xenophobic’.

Svoboda would stop immigration, reserve government jobs for ‘ethnic Ukrainians’, end abortion and gun control, ban communist ideology and require religious affiliation and ethnicity to be included on all identity documents. Svoboda and the Right Sector now hold six key government positions including those of Vice Premier, head of the National Security Council, Chief Prosecutor and Minister for Youth – all central to organising and arming fascist gangs and putting them in government uniforms. Svoboda also has members in charge of the ministries for education, agriculture and the environment.

Economic manoeuvres and German plans
President Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement on 21 November 2013 triggered the protests in Kiev’s Maidan (Independence) Square. This Agreement opens up Ukraine to plunder by international banks and multinational corporations, as with Greece and Spain. Ukraine’s acting finance minister said that Ukraine needs $35bn in aid in two years. The International Monetary Fund agreed in March to provide $14bn to Ukraine; in return demands that household gas prices be raised by 50% and that government spending be cut.

Ukraine is the world’s sixth largest exporter of aircraft military goods. It has advanced shipbuilding industries, including natural gas tankers, plus automobile and truck production. These will be looted. In 2013 the Ukrainian government signed a shale exploration deal with Shell for $10bn, the largest ever foreign direct investment in the country; a similar deal with Chevron of the US followed.

Ukraine was known as ‘the breadbasket’ of the Soviet Union, its fertile soils producing a quarter of the Soviet Union’s agricultural output. Ukraine’s farming exports rose from $4.3bn in 2005 to $17.9bn in 2012, a quarter of Ukraine’s exports. Represented on the US-Ukraine Business Council are the directors of Monsanto, DuPont, John Deere, Eli Lilly and Cargill – US multinationals in food production. Last autumn Cargill invested $200m in Ukraine’s UkrLandFarming, the world’s eighth largest land cultivator and second biggest egg producer. Monsanto intends to build a $140m corn seed plant in Ukraine. Morgan Williams, President of the US-Ukraine Business Council said: ‘The potential here for agriculture/agribusiness is amazing … Ukraine’s agriculture could be a real gold mine.’* This is the real ‘land grab’.

The US and EU leaders present a façade of unity in condemning Russia’s presence in Crimea but are not united in how to respond. Within the EU, Britain and Sweden have argued for the broadest range of sanctions; others are more circumspect, fearing Russian retaliation. 30% of the EU’s natural gas comes from Russia, with 60% of this crossing Ukraine. Britain receives no natural gas from Russia. Western banks have $242bn invested in Russia compared with $160bn of Russian assets held in the west. Much of that Russian money sits in the City of London. French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said that France would suspend its sale of helicopter gunships to Russia but only if Britain took action against Russian oligarchs in London. Thus far just 20 Russian individuals and one bank have been targeted for sanctions. The former Conservative foreign secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, called Britain’s posturing ‘pathetic and feeble’.

An escalation in sanctions against Russia would hurt European banks more than US banks. French banks are estimated to have claims of $51bn, with Societe Generale being the second most exposed bank with potential losses of $7.2bn. However, Austrian banks’ claims amount to 1.4% of the country’s total bank assets – the highest proportion in Europe. The Raiffeisen bank collected over half its pre-tax profits from Russia in 2013.

On 13 March German Chancellor Merkel said that Russia had resorted to ‘the law of the jungle’. For now, the interests of the German and US ruling classes coincide, as Germany seeks to become the dominant economic power in central and eastern Europe and the US seeks to subordinate Russia. However, Germany’s rulers intend to match their economic power with military capability. The German foreign and defence ministers have said that Germany intends to increase its military commitments in Europe and develop a ‘strategy for Africa’.

As the one hundredth anniversary of the First World War approaches, we see again the accumulation of tensions that could discharge a new conflagration. The US spends more on the military than the next ten countries combined. As its economic power wanes so it is turning to military power to assert itself. In 2013 Russian military spending was $68.8bn making Russia the third biggest military spender after the US and China, overtaking Britain and France. Russian defence spending rose by 25% in 2012-13 and is planned to grow further. Russia sides with Iran and Syria against US and NATO plans. Russia has the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons, estimated at 8,500 compared to the US’s 7,700. The US has announced a pivot to Asia to contain China. Lenin said that we live in an era of wars and revolutions – this now has substance – we must end imperialism before it ends us all.

*The Ecologist, 21 March 2014.