Ukraine - terror and tragedy

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 240 August/September 2014

Events following the tragic crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine have exposed the cynical depths to which the US and its allies will sink to exploit disaster for political ends. Within hours, without evidence, US President Obama blamed the tragedy on soldiers of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), who allegedly downed the plane with a missile using equipment and training from Russia. These claims have resonated most loudly in Washington, London, Canberra and Kiev. They are an exercise in political speculation familiar to the bellicose US and British ruling classes; thus The Independent (21 July 2014) proclaims an ‘increasingly compelling’ case against the DNR, citing heavily-edited, unverified and contradictory footage from right-wing bloggers and Kiev’s secret service, as though they were proven fact. Jack Edwards reports.

Both the DNR and Russia deny any involvement in the tragedy and have pledged their support to an international scientific examination of the disaster. This has not stopped a barrage of hostile allegations. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott accused the DNR of ‘evidence-tampering on an industrial scale’ at the crash scene, and the British media daily publishes claims of DNR soldiers obstructing recovery efforts and concealing flight recorders; these have been refuted with OSCE monitors describing ‘fairly good access’ to the crash site and the Malaysian investigation team thanking DNR Prime Minister Alexander Borodai for providing flight recorders and other evidence for analysis. For the US and its allies baseless speculation serves a clear purpose – to ratchet up aggression against Russia and to divert attention from the very real missiles fired by the Ukrainian army at towns and cities in the rebel-held east.

Kiev on the rampage

On 21 July 2014 Kiev resumed its artillery bombardment of Donetsk, killing five people near the railway station in a city more densely populated than Amsterdam or Dublin. They are among the latest casualties in a renewed push by the US-backed government to recapture rebel-held cities in eastern Ukraine, which has been under attack from Ukrainian forces since the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk seceded following the overthrow of President Yanukovich in February 2014. The attacks, presented as ‘anti-terrorist operations’, have resulted in more than 1,500 deaths, left 54,000 people internally displaced and by late June forced at least 110,000 Ukrainians into refuge in Russia; this is probably an underestimate – the Russian Federal Migration Service recorded more than 400,000 refugees since April. Cities like Luhansk, once home to 430,000 people, have become ghost towns as residents flee airstrikes on residential areas; one such assault by the Ukrainian army on 6 June was supported by the US State Department as the military ‘defending the country of Ukraine’. Between March and June the US approved more than $28 million in military aid to the Ukrainian army.

These military actions have targets greater than the DNR and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR), they are intended to provoke Russia into a military confrontation. On 13 July Ukrainian artillery shells hit a house in a Russian border town, also called Donetsk, killing one and wounding four others. Within hours of the attack Ukrainian warplanes overflew the town, violating Russian air space, to fire rockets at targets inside Ukraine. Russian border posts, through which hundreds of refugees flock daily, have become a favoured target for Kiev’s artillery. On 20 June mortar fire hit the Novoshakhtinsk checkpoint, an act repeated eight days later at Gukovo; Novoshakhtinsk became a target again on 3 and 5 July when it was shelled by Ukrainian troops. On 12 July Ukrainian troops opened fire on Russian border guards in Kuibyshev, with four shells fired from Ukraine exploding 300 metres from the Russian border. Russia’s response has been remarkably restrained, issuing public condemnation but no military response; how long it might stay so, as Kiev continues its reckless behaviour and refuses to pay its $5bn gas debt, remains to be seen.

Fascist crackdown

The growing influence of fascism on the Kiev regime is being recognised by even the British media. On 16 July the BBC published a report detailing the role played by European neo-Nazis in the Azov Battalion, a growing volunteer force of more than 300 fascist militants from across Europe formed and armed by the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs. Three fascist paramilitary battalions have been sanctioned by the Kiev government for ‘anti-terrorist operations’. With key government posts occupied by fascists, mainstream political discourse has turned further to the right; Prime Minister Yatsenyuk pledged to ‘clean the land’ from ‘evil invaders’ and ‘sub-humans’.

While the Ukrainian state arms fascists to fight in the east, it allows them to rampage in the west. Prime targets are native Russian speakers, around 40% of people in Ukraine, leftists, LGBT and ethnic minorities. Offices of Russian language newspapers have been attacked by masked thugs armed with tear gas, guns and flares, while even moderate organisations like the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine saw their congress stormed by fascists on 26 June. Kiev’s LGBT pride festival, scheduled for 5 July, was cancelled by Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko; the following night 20 neo-Nazis attacked a gay club in Kiev with smoke bombs and fire crackers. These attacks pale against those directed at the left; the communist organisation Borotba has seen its offices destroyed and occupied by the National Guard, its members kidnapped and tortured by fascist gangs and secret police in Kharkov and Dnipropetrovsk, and its leaders placed on the wanted list of the government prosecution office. On 8 July the Justice Minister filed a successful lawsuit in the Kiev district court to ban the Communist Party – a party with 115,000 members and 23 representatives in the Rada. Resisting these attacks must be a priority of all progressive people in Ukraine and beyond.

Cracks emerge

As Ukraine edges towards catastrophe, contradictions between the imperialist powers and within the country itself are rising to the surface. The EU is split over increased sanctions on Russia, with British insistence on sending ‘a very clear signal to Russia’ meeting a frosty reception in France and Germany, whose economies would be harmed by sanctions; Germany, whose bilateral trade with Russia totals €60bn, would be hit hard by a potential Russian recession. The average EU country acquires 24% of its gas from Russia, rising to 100% in Estonia and Finland; sanctions on Russian energy providers would leave a potent mark on their own economies. Britain gets no Russian gas. In Ukraine, the harsh reality of the NATO-backed government is being felt outside of the east; throughout June and July families of Ukrainian soldiers blocked the Chernivtsi-Zhytomyr international highway and military buildings in Ternopil, Melitopol and Kherson to protest against relatives being sent to the eastern front. Prime Minister Yatsenyuk’s plans for ‘the most ambitious privatisation programme for 20 years’ have met with protests in Kharkov. On 24 July Yatsenyuk said he was resigning because he was unable to transfer more funds to the army. Imperialism and its fascist puppets have put their cards on the table but their victory is not inevitable, provided that working class opposition seizes the time.

US’s own deadly attack on a passenger flight

US ambassador Samantha Powers was fighting back tears at the United Nations as she spoke of the infants killed on flight MH17 and demanded that those responsible for the shooting down of the aircraft be brought to justice. But there were no tears from the United States when on 3 June 1988, one of its warships shot an Iranian civilian passenger flight out of the sky. Iran Air Flight 655 was shot down over Iranian air space by surface-to-air missiles fired by the guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes. The incident took place over Iran’s territorial waters in the Persian Gulf, on the flight’s usual flight path, and the airliner was sending a signal that identified it as a civilian aircraft. All 290 on board, including 66 children, died. This event ranks seventh among the deadliest disasters in aviation history. The US claimed the Vincennes had incorrectly identified the passenger plane as an attacking F-14A Tomcat fighter and described the lethal assault as ‘a human tragedy’, for which it blamed the Iranian pilot. For eight years the US attempted to cover up for its actions – including the fact that the Vincennes had illegally entered Iranian waters; it was not until 1996 that any compensation was paid to the victims’ families; even then the US never accepted legal liability for the disaster nor even offered an apology.


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