Ukraine - Contradictions sharpen despite ceasefire

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EU and neo-Nazi flags fly toguether in Kiev

The announcement of a ceasefire between the Ukrainian military and the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) on 5 September 2014 (extended on 19 September), is a reflection of the utter failure of the Kiev government to crush opposition in the country’s east in a war that has left more than 3,000 people dead, 6,000 wounded and over a million displaced. Russian President Vladimir Putin, vilified as a belligerent warmonger by the imperialist press, has played a leading role in organising the ceasefire, his seven point peace plan forming the basis of negotiations between Kiev and the DNR and LNR. The imperialists and their Ukrainian allies are now forced to reconsider their tactical approach. Jack Edwards reports.

Cracks emerge in Kiev

The ceasefire agreement has brought to the fore divisions within the Ukrainian ruling class over its handling of the war in the east. The conflict has exacerbated the country’s economic collapse, costing an estimated $6m each day and driving the country towards an anticipated 10% contraction in GDP by the end of 2014. At the same time, it is deeply unpopular with the Ukrainian public, with 75% of Ukrainians supporting a negotiated peace settlement in the east; by 19 August more than 1,000 cases of military draft evasion had been brought before law enforcement agencies.

Conscious of the growing social crisis, and with a parliamentary election looming on 26 October, President Petro Poroshenko’s camp sees the ceasefire as a tactical opportunity to rearm and rethink its failing military strategy. To these ends he has announced a $3bn increase in military spending and conducted an international tour soliciting funds from the imperialists; on 18 September he successfully pleaded for $53m of fresh aid from the US, and was pledged $350m for weapons and military training in 2015. Yet for an influential section of the Ukrainian ruling class the ceasefire is an unacceptable compromise obstructing the reconquest of the east. Both Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko have demanded increased military action and full membership of NATO. They have the firm support of virulently anti-Russian oligarchs like banking tycoon and Dnipropetrovsk governor Ihor Kolomoyskyi, whose ludicrous June proposals to build a $130m, 1,200 mile barbed wire topped wall along the Russian border have been formally adopted as policy by Yatsenyuk. The schism between the factions is growing. On 13 September Yatsenyuk declared that his newly-formed People’s Front party would stand independently of the ‘Petro Poroshenko Bloc’ at the forthcoming elections; Tymoshenko's party Batkivshchyna has pledged its full support to Yatsenyuk.

Fascists call the shots

Both factions have sought the allegiance of Ukraine’s militant fascist organisations, whose members were instrumental to the downfall of former President Yanukovich and have led violent clashes with the rebels in the east. Members of the Azov Battalion, one of the largest and most violent of the 44 fascist paramilitaries active in the east, were applauded as ‘the heroes of Ukraine’ by Poroshenko on his 9 September visit to Mariupol. On 17 September the battalion was upgraded to the rank of official military regiment. Azov’s commander, Andriy Biletsky, is leader of the openly neo-Nazi Social-National Assembly; both Avakov and Biletsky are members of the military council of Prime Minister Yatsenyuk’s ‘People’s Front’ party. Collaboration between organised fascists and the Ukrainian state is taking place at every level. Paramilitaries accompanied Security Service of Ukraine agents on the home raid, beating and arrest of Odessa communist activist Vladislav Wojciechowski on 12 September, while soldiers of the Azov Battalion were invited into a high school in Boyarka on 13 September to provide ‘patriotic education classes’ to students.

On 16 and 17 September, Kiev was again ablaze as hundreds of Svoboda and Right Sector supporters burned tyres and threw smoke grenades outside the Rada and presidential building. After successfully demanding the passage of the ‘lustration law’ – which makes the employment of one million civil servants dependent on their loyalty to the Kiev government - the fascists demanded a presidential veto on part of the ceasefire agreement giving special status to Donetsk and Lugansk and an amnesty to DNR and LNR soldiers. Fascist battalions and sympathisers in the military have repeatedly violated the terms of the ceasefire. On 20 September artillery shells tore through an industrial chemical plant in Donetsk, the latest in a series of army attacks on residential areas, while on 17 September the Aidar Battalion blew up the energy station outside Luhansk, leaving the city without electricity and water. This is not the first war crime committed by the battalion. The threat of a fascist coup in Ukraine has become real.

Imperialists pour fuel on the fire

The imperialists have sought to escalate the crisis through continued attacks on Russia. Despite Russia’s undeniably central role in the ceasefire process the imperialists continue to demonise and discredit President Putin. Sanctions implemented under the pretext of ‘Russian aggression’ have been broadened; in response Russia has halted food imports from the US, EU, Australia, Canada and Norway, depriving them of a £9.7bn market. The impact of anti-Russian sanctions has begun to be felt by German industry, which predicts a 20-25% fall in exports to Russia by the end of 2014.

On 8 September 2,000 NATO troops concluded a week of military exercises in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland, while less than a week later a further 1,300 troops from 15 NATO and allied states began new exercises outside Lviv in western Ukraine. At its summit on 4 September NATO pledged €15m in aid and military advice to Ukraine, following a $17bn loan to Ukraine agreed by the IMF and a $500m loan approved by the World Bank in August. Although NATO denies that the aid includes lethal military assistance, Ukrainian Defence Minister Valery Heletey proudly announced on 14 September that NATO weapons deliveries were ‘already on the way to us’; according to Poroshenko’s advisor, Yuri Lutsenko, suppliers of arms and military advice include the US, France, Italy, Poland and Norway. Speaking before the US Congress Poroshenko compared the situation of Ukraine to that of Israel. He is quite correct; both now serve as regional launch pads for imperialist aggression and economic domination.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 241 October/November 2014