Ukraine: The descent into chaos

Ukraine is being pushed into chaos by the interim government and its NATO commanders. Dozens of US CIA and FBI agents have been installed in Kiev to advise the interim government and direct its forces. The police and army have proved unreliable when directed to attack opposition forces in eastern Ukraine and so fascist gangs have been recruited to the National Guard and put in government uniforms. They helped perpetrate a massacre in Odessa. Private security contractors, previously deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, have been hired. Death squads have been formed. TREVOR RAYNE reports.

The Ukrainian billionaire oligarch Igor Kolomoisky pays his own private army because he does not trust the local police; he offers bounties for captured opposition fighters. Kolomoisky is governor of Dnipropetrovsk, he has dual Ukrainian-Israeli citizenship and resides in Switzerland. Over 20 eastern Ukrainian towns and cities have declared themselves autonomous from the government in Kiev. The interim government describes these opponents as ‘terrorists’ and vows to annihilate them. Russia says Ukraine owes it $3.5bn in unpaid bills for gas supplies and that if no payment is made by 2 June supplies will stop the next day. The economy is sliding into ruin and civil war threatens.

The February 2014 coup that drove President Yanukovych from office and out of Ukraine was supported and guided by the US, with British government support (see FRFI 238 April/May 2014). The US wants to weaken the Russian state and fragment Russia. It wanted to remove Russia’s naval base from Sevastopol in Crimea, break Russian military ties to industries in eastern Ukraine and bring Ukraine into NATO and the European Union. For Russia, Ukraine is central to its trading and political links with Europe. Crimea is essential for Russian naval access to the Black Sea and Mediterranean and for the defence of southern Russia. It was incorporated into Russia following the 16 March referendum held in Crimea.

US strategy for global hegemony requires it to prevent any regional or global rival from emerging. The Russian state’s territorial reach, its nuclear weapons stockpile (the biggest in the world) and its fuel supplies to Europe make it a potential rival to the US in central Asia and Europe. Russia allied with China would pose a long-term strategic challenge to US global domination.

On 21 May Russia and China signed an agreement whereby Russia will supply China with 38bn cubic metres of natural gas a year for 30 years, starting in 2018. This coincided with a joint Russian–Chinese naval exercise in the South China Sea. The NATO allies are not agreed on sanctions against Russia: France is proceeding with the sale of two helicopter assault ships to Russia, despite US protests, and this year Russia’s Gazprom has signed deals with German, Italian, Austrian and Swiss partners.

Following Crimea’s incorporation into Russia, Ukraine’s predominantly Russian speaking eastern population has demanded increased autonomy from Kiev and a federal structure for the Ukrainian state. On 7 April a People’s Republic was declared in Donetsk. On 11 May a referendum in Donetsk and Lugansk voted for greater independence for these eastern regions; the organisers of the vote then declared themselves to have formed two sovereign republics. The interim government denounced them as ‘terrorist organisations’ and increased its military presence in the regions, deploying tanks, armoured personnel carriers and helicopters. Armed conflicts are taking place between eastern opposition forces and those of the interim government. A violent escalation looks imminent.

Despite pleas from some in eastern Ukraine for Russian intervention, there are sound reasons why President Putin and the Russian government might be wary of a trap set by the US and NATO. A Russian attack on Ukraine government forces or occupation of part of Ukraine runs the risk of provoking a US/NATO attack on Russian bases; of igniting a civil war that could spill across the border from Ukraine into Russia; and of ensnaring Russian forces in a prolonged, costly, unwinnable war that would damage the legitimacy of the Russian state in the eyes of Russia’s people. Russian commercial relations with Europe, particularly with Germany, would be harmed at great cost to Russia’s ruling class and its economy.

President Putin has signalled that Russia has no intention of crossing into Ukraine. Speaking at an Organisation for Cooperation and Security in Europe meeting on 7 May, Putin called for dialogue ‘between the Kiev authorities and the representatives of the people in southeast Ukraine’ as the means of guaranteeing their lawful rights in Ukraine. Putin said Russia had withdrawn troops from the border with Ukraine and he asked for the 11 May referendum to be postponed. He called on the interim government to end military and punitive operations in southeast Ukraine: ‘This is not an effective means of resolving internal political conflicts, and, on the contrary, will only deepen the divisions.’ Interim Prime Minister Yatsenyuk called Putin’s statements ‘hot air’. The interim Defence Secretary said the ‘counter-terrorist operation will continue unhindered’.

NATO, interim government and fascist belligerence is covered up by the main media in the US and Europe. The vocabulary chosen depicts Russia as the aggressor and those in eastern Ukraine who oppose the US, EU, IMF and their interim government as extremists. This is intended to condition people to accept NATO expansionism, a possible NATO attack and to excuse or hide fascist atrocities. British Foreign Secretary William Hague told Parliament on 4 March that ‘It is wrong to question the legitimacy of the new authorities’ in Kiev. The interim government was established by an armed putsch against an elected government – it is illegitimate. Hague says Russia is ‘trying to orchestrate conflict and provocation in Ukraine’s southeast’ and the media parrot him, regardless of the fact that it is NATO and its interim government that is provoking Russia and attacking eastern Ukraine. Russia is described as ‘increasingly assertive’, those who want more regional autonomy are ‘pro-Russian separatists’ – repetition is intended to create the impression of a fact. Labour Party shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander accused Russia of destabilising Ukraine and called for more sanctions.

The Financial Times enthusiastically joins the fray asserting that Russia is threatening Moldova, Georgia and the Baltic states. It offers the US and EU advice on how to bring Russia to heel: cut Russia off from the world financial system by denying it access to the Society for Worldwide Interbank Telecommunication (Swift) thereby stopping money being sent into or out of Russia (13 May 2014). A typical formulation runs that Russia is engaged in ‘covert efforts to destabilise the east and impose a loose federal structure on Ukraine that would weaken Kiev and boost Moscow’s influence’ (Financial Times 14 May 2014).    

The misrepresentation of what is happening in Ukraine extends to supposed Marxists. Svoboda and Right Sector now hold six key government positions – they are fascists. Slavoj Zizek, favourite of the British left, lauds the Maidan protesters, ‘The Maidan protesters were heroes, but the true fight – the fight for what the living dream of Europe will be – begins now, and it will be tougher than the fight against Putin’s intervention’ (London Review of Books 8 May 2014). The fascists were not alone in Maidan Square, but they gave it the muscle and they were greeted and hailed by the US Under-Secretary of State for European and Asian Affairs, Victoria Nuland, as heroes.

Massacre in Odessa

On 2 May 48 people were murdered in Odessa. They were opponents of the interim government and had occupied Trade Unions House which became a death trap when it was surrounded by fascists, including members of the Right Sector. Paramilitary groups descended on Odessa from across western and central Ukraine. There is ample filmed evidence of fascists throwing petrol bombs into the building, of snipers shooting at their opponents in the House, of fascists armed with chains and clubs beating to death those who jumped from the blazing building and of murders committed by the paramilitaries inside the building before it was set alight. All those who were killed were local Ukrainian people.

Odessa is Ukraine’s third largest city and main seaport. It has over one million people and is a multi-ethnic community. A doctor who tried to help those under attack recalled, ‘… but I was stopped by pro-Ukrainian Nazi radicals. One of them pushed me away rudely, promising that soon me and other Jews of Odessa are going to meet the same fate … I wonder why the whole world is keeping silent.’ As the Odessa massacre was taking place US President Obama said, ‘The Ukrainian government has the right and responsibility to uphold law and order within its territory.’ Obama described the interim government as ‘duly elected’ – which it is not! After the massacre Obama congratulated the interim government on its ‘remarkable restraint’. Interim government Prime Minister Yatseniuk blamed Russia for provoking clashes and called on investigators to prosecute ‘all those that under Russian leadership who began a deadly attack on Ukraine and Odessa’. The Financial Times said the deaths resulted from a ‘battle between rival mobs’. In a two page report from Odessa in The Independent Kim Sengupta notes that 48 people were killed and 200 injured, but nowhere does he identify the role of the fascists in the killing and he derides the likelihood of Right Sector involvement (8 May 2014).

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the Ukrainian authorities of trying to ‘hide the truth’ about Odessa. He said he wanted to see an investigation into reports that about 1,000 ‘militants’ arrived in Odessa on the eve of the massacre, including ‘suspected mercenaries from other countries’ who were paid by ‘well-known characters’. The Ukrainian left wing organisation Borotba (Struggle) lost one of its members in the attack on the House. It pointed out that ‘It happened on 2 May, the day when Adolf Hitler’s storm troopers occupied all trade union headquarters across Germany in 1933, and union leaders were arrested and put in prison or concentration camps’.

There have been clashes between interim government forces in the eastern cities of Mariupol and Slovyansk. By the third week of May over 20 opposition fighters had been killed in Slovyansk, but it remains beyond interim government control. Two government helicopter gunships were shot down outside Slovyansk on 2 May with surface-to-air missiles.

Oligarchs, democracy and socialism

Under the Soviet Union, the economy was largely independent of imperialist finance and its commercial ties. This is not the case today. Russia has 111 billionaires, after the US with 492, China with 152, but ahead of Britain with 104. By dint of their wealth these oligarchs are powerful within their respective states. In Russia the oligarchs are dependent upon their access to international finance and investments abroad – much of it lodged in the City of London. Imperialism will use the threat of sanctions against these oligarchs to pressure the Russian government. The workers and people of eastern Ukraine cannot depend upon Russia to protect them; they are their own best defenders against NATO, the interim government and its fascist gangs.

Presidential and municipal elections are scheduled in Ukraine for 25 May. The main contenders are both oligarchs, Petro Porashenko and Yulia Timoshenko. Communists and socialists are unable to campaign in Kiev and much of the country because of the threat of fascist attacks. In the east opponents of the interim government have been closing down electoral commissions, intending to sabotage the election. The US and EU say they will impose more sanctions against Russia if they consider it to have interfered in the election, but the idea that a democratic Presidential election could take place when much of the country is subjected to ‘anti-terrorist operations’ is nonsense.

Factory workers and miners in the east of Ukraine have called for the renationalisation of the industries they work in. Banks and buildings owned by oligarchs in the east have been attacked and occupied. Many of those who protested through the winter in Kiev were opposed to the rule of the oligarchs. As Ukraine is plundered by the IMF, international banks and multinational corporations the workers’ self-defence threatens the oligarchs and their fascist auxiliaries with the revival of socialism.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 239 June/July 2014


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