In a rare moment of candour, recently, Ukraine's acting President Turchynov admitted that his forces were "helpless" to quell the unrest in Eastern Ukraine, as the pro-Russian insurgency is on the rise. Furthermore he admitted that the Ukrainian security forces were not reliable and “some of these units either aid or co-operate with terrorist groups.” Now the goal would be to prevent the pro-Russian insurgency from spreading in the Kharkiv and Odessa regions. This amounts to a declaration of defeat.
Not even two weeks have passed since the “historical” Geneva agreement of April 17 between the Ukrainian government, Russia, the European Union and the United States. It was greeted by Western media with a collective sigh of relief and hailed as a breakthrough in de-escalating the Ukrainian crisis. In reality, beyond this barrage of propaganda and fake optimism, one could not help noticing the nervousness of the US officials and the sardonic smile of their Russian counterparts. In fact there had been no agreement, other than the US abandoning any claim over Crimea’s annexation by Russia, which is now an undisputed fact.
The fiery “there will be consequences!” speeches by Mr Kerry have amounted to just so much hot air. A consummate manoeuvrer, Putin is moving his pieces on the diplomatic chess board with the skill of a Grand Master. The points scored by Russian diplomacy in the power-game around the Ukraine are challenging the patience of the US imperialists, but the latter have successfully put themselves in a position which is untenable. Their empty threats do not deter Russia because they cannot be backed up by serious action.
It seems incredible that the Americans should imagine that they could sit around the conference table in Geneva, exchange smiles and polite conversation with the other side, and achieve by diplomatic means what they have failed to achieve on the ground. This foolish illusion seriously underestimated both the determination of Moscow and the real balance of forces in the Ukraine. In the end, the deal was reduced to scrap paper even before the ink was dry.
The deal brokered in Geneva loudly proclaimed that all buildings occupied by the pro-Russian insurgents in Eastern Ukraine must be vacated and armed groups must surrender their weapons. That was real fighting talk! However, there was no mention in the small print of who was supposed to carry that decision into practice and nothing of the sort ever happened.
A few hours after the announcement was made, Denis Pushilin, head of the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk, shrugged his shoulders and rejected the deal on the grounds that the Ukrainian government was illegal, adding with a heavy dose of irony that they would be delighted to comply with the deal once the government had vacated its illegally occupied buildings in Kiev. The same defiant mood reverberated among the rebel outposts throughout the Donetsk area, emboldened by the victories they had scored on the ground.
Humiliating defeat of the Ukrainian army
What the circus in Geneva was trying to cover up was the embarrassing failure of the Ukrainian government on April 16 to regain control of the rebel outposts in Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. The attempt came after days of ultimatums which were never enforced. A massive campaign of government propaganda to demonstrate that “terrorist militias” and direct Russian involvement were behind the insurgency in the East had clearly backfired. It may have had the effect of whipping up a mood of hysterical belligerence among a vocal minority of Ukrainian nationalist public opinion. But that was swiftly deflated and turned to anger and frustration at the government’s manifest failure to follow up its tough talk with equally tough action.
On the other hand, the threatening messages issuing from Kiev had an electrifying effect on the population of the South East of Ukraine. People in that predominantly Russian-speaking region felt alarmed by the implied threat of an attack by an army under the orders of a government which most of them regard as illegitimate. But days passed and the belligerent noises coming from Kiev produced no action. Clearly, the government was not confident that its troops could be relied upon to do its dirty work in the South East. Subsequent events showed that this apprehension was well grounded.
Ukrainian troops and armoured vehicles finally attempted to enter the two cities early in the morning of April 16. But this intended show of strength immediately turned into a show of weakness. The armoured vehicles were surrounded by an angry populace, shouting defiance and insults at the confused and dispirited Ukrainian soldiers.
A tank commander was seen making desperate phone calls to his commanding officer: “I am surrounded by a large number of people. What should I do?” The reply of the commanding officer is not known, but not a shot was fired and in the end the armoured cars were abandoned to the jubilant crowd. One Ukrainian soldier shouted from the top of a tank: “I am against all this,” as he jumped off his vehicle and joined the demonstrators. His companions soon followed his example and in a matter of minutes the show of force was at an end.
Tanks surrounded - Photo: Olaf Koens
Whether the Ukrainian armed forces would be prepared to confront a Russian invasion remains to be seen, but ordinary Ukrainian soldiers are certainly not prepared to open fire on their own people. Throughout the morning, reports and videos were circulated by independent journalists on social media showing demoralised Ukrainian soldiers giving up their tanks and disarming their weapons, walking away with their heads down in front of hundreds of angry ordinary local residents and a few badly armed rebel militiamen (see: Ukraine’s Attempt To Retake The East Fails Miserably).
Posted on Twitter with the following comment: "One of the
six tanks of the Ukranian army that i just saw in
#Kramatorsk that switched sides. Now w Russian flag"
The Ukrainian armed forces were sent in without any serious preparation. Many of the soldiers who were sent against the insurgents were from a nearby region and some of them complained they had not been fed properly for weeks. The consequences of this humiliation, which will become more evident over the coming period, will have long lasting effects. The government’s authority over officers and troops, which was never particularly strong, has now reached new lows in the eyes of the rank and file soldiers and even among officers, up to the very top level.
Hypocrisy of the West
The campaign in the Western media that tries to blame everything on Russia reeks of hypocrisy. The spokespersons of the White House solemnly refer to the principles of international law that prohibit the interference of nations in the affairs of other nations in condemnation of Moscow’s actions in Crimea, and somehow manage to do this with a straight face. Just how the brutal rape of Iraq and Afghanistan can be made to conform with these same principles must remain a mystery. But then, it was always the business of diplomacy to square the circle, to maintain that black is white and to make the most outrageous pronouncements without blushing.
For over two decades American imperialism has been rampaging through the world, invading countries, overthrowing governments, bullying sovereign states and spying on its allies, bombing, killing, torturing and generally throwing its weight around. All this was naturally in complete conformity with the principles of international law. But let anyone try to resist it and Washington immediately raises a tremendous hue and cry. It behaves like a schoolyard bully who has become accustomed to getting his own way but when he gets a punch on the nose goes running to teacher to complain that he is the victim of an unprovoked attack.
The Americans are guilty of blatant double standards. They actively supported the overthrow of the Yanukovych government, which they presented (as always in such cases) as a movement for democracy, despite the fact that openly fascist elements played a key role in it. Now, when the people of the South East of Ukraine take over the running of local government and oust the representatives of Kiev by the same means, they are insisting that it is an unlawful act and the work of Russian agents.
The workers of South East Ukraine had no illusions in Yanukovich, but they are bitterly hostile to the new government in Kiev, the first action of which was to repeal the law which gave Russian language official status at a regional level. This was like a red rag to a bull for Russian-speaking Ukrainians. The revulsion was such that acting president Turchynov was forced to declare that he would veto the bill repealing the languages law.
To make matters worse, living standards have been slashed and prices raised, especially of fuel. Adding insult to injury, oligarchs linked to the new clique in power in Kiev were quickly appointed as governors in regions of the South and East. Thus, the country’s third wealthiest man, Kolomoisky, was appointed as governor of Dnipropetrovk, while Serhiy Taruta, the country’s 16th richest man, was appointed governor of Donetsk. As a result, there is a seething discontent. The entire region has become a powder-keg only waiting for a spark to cause an explosion. It was not the Kremlin that ignited the powder-keg but the actions of the Kiev ruling clique and its imperialist backers.
For many months the Western media has attempted to portray the so-called Maidan movement in rosy colours as a movement for “democracy”. The Western media has shamelessly concealed the leading role played by open fascist and Nazis organisations in the overthrow of Yanukovich. Fascist elements are present in the Kiev government and dictate many of its policies, including the attempt to ban the Russian language. They have begun to rewrite history presenting the Banderaists, who collaborated with the Nazis and perpetrated atrocities against Russians, Poles and Jews during the Second World War, as nationalist heroes. The reactionaries in Kiev brand anyone who does not agree with them as “slaves” or Russian lackeys. The deputy from Lviv in Western Ukraine, Iryna Farion, likes to refer to Russian speakers as “creatures”.
No Western politician could get away with such language. Yet people in the West, who rely on news reports in the media, can have no idea of how far reaction has gone in the Ukraine. Therefore, when they see reports of armed men seizing government buildings in the South East of the country, the only explanation given to them is that it is all the work of sinister forces sent from Moscow.
Kiev, Lviv and other Western Ukrainian cities are in the grip of a White Terror. Communists are beaten up and their officers ransacked and burnt down by fascist gangs. For instance, the Kiev offices of the Communist Party (KPU) were ransacked by extreme right wing thugs from the neo-nazi Right Sector and the Maidan “Self Defence” on April 9 and later that night suffered an arson attack. Offices of the KPU were also attacked in Lviv and other cities. Members of Parliament for the extreme right wing party Svoboda (part of the new government) beat up the state TV station director and forced him to resign. The same Svoboda Members of Parliament beat up Communist Party leader Symonenko as he was addressing the Rada criticising Ukranian right wing nationalists. Oleg Tsarev, a presidential candidate who claims to represent the South and Eastern regions, was beaten up by extreme right wing thugs after a TV appearance and then again as he visited Mikolayiv.
Lviv march conmemorating SS Galicia division
On April 27, a march in Lviv marked the anniversary of the foundation of the SS Galicia division of Ukranian volunteers, responsible for carrying out mass murder of Jews and others. The march was organised by Svoboda, which is the first party in the region and, as we said before, part of the ruling coalition in Kiev.
Of all this, not a single word is printed in the Western press. This outrageous conspiracy of silence about the reign of terror in the Western Ukraine contrasts with the blatantly distorted and one-sided reports about “terrorists”, “Russian agents” and “separatists” in the South East.
Not only the extreme right wing party Svoboda is part of the ruling coalition, but one of its members, Oleh Makhnitskiy, holds the office of Prosecutor General. Andriy Parubiy, founder of the neo-Nazi Social-Nationalist Party then respectable right wing bourgeois politician and “commander of the Maidan Self-Defence” is now the Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council.
The fanatical nationalist petty bourgeoisie from Western Ukraine are driven by a blind hatred of all things Russian. But they offer no solution to the burning problems of the Ukrainian people. The dream that Ukraine could solve its problem by moving closer to the West has been immediately exposed as a hopeless illusion. The aid which has been promised by the West to prop up its stooges in Kiev (in any case, a miserable amount) has come with strings attached. They are demanding “reform”, which means vicious cuts in living standards and services. Finance Minister Oleksandr Shlapak has already promised “structural reform”, “liberalisation” and “cutting the budget deficit” - and you don’t need to speak Greek to know what an IMF-EU memorandum entails!
All of this further alienates the working men and women of Donetsk, Lugansk, or Kharkiv, who now look with envy to the higher wages and better conditions of their counterparts in the Russian Federation. Thus, the so-called Ukrainian patriots have succeeded in driving a solid wedge between the West and East of Ukraine, which can threaten the very existence of Ukraine as a nation.
The situation has deteriorated to such a point, and the population of the South East is so angry and disaffected, that any attempt of the Kiev government to resort to violence against them, would result in a very bloody civil war. So far, all the attempts of the Ukrainian government to assert its authority in the South East have ended in farce.
Insurrection in the South East
Those who think that it is Russia which pulls the strings in the South East of Ukraine are guilty of a gross misunderstanding of the complexities of the region, its national and social composition and its historical relation to Russia. The Donbas region comprises 10 percent of Ukraine’s population but it produces 25 percent of Ukrainian exports. Its inhabitants, overwhelmingly Russian-speaking people, are mostly proletarian in composition, working in mines, steel and chemical plants and machinery factories. They are deeply suspicious of moves to take Ukraine out the Russian sphere of influence and to place it under the control of Western imperialism. From an economic point of view, the integration of Ukraine into the European Union would spell ruin for their industries, which are heavily dependent on exports to the Russian market.
Workers in Donetsk do not need Vladimir Putin to tell them that their industries will be closed once Ukraine joins the EU. They can see what has happened in countries like Hungary, Romania or the Baltic States, which have joined the EU. Moreover, the integration of Russia in the capitalist world economy has led to the export of natural resources, with the resultant closure of thousands of factories. The problem here is not a national problem but a problem of the capitalist system itself. The economic ruin, mass unemployment and high cost of living affect everyone: the ethnically Ukrainian, Russian, Armenian or Hungarian – all are victims of the crisis of capitalism and the rule of the oligarchs.
To the economic problem we must add the question of national and linguistic oppression. From the standpoint of Russian speakers, the domination by Ukrainian nationalists based in the Western part of the country represents a potential threat to the status of the Russian language, and the likelihood that the people in the South East would become an oppressed national minority and second-class citizens in their own country. Is it therefore so surprising that they should take action to defend themselves?
Is this a repetition of Crimea?
Washington claims that the seizure of government buildings has been carried out by well armed professional soldiers. But the evidence does not support these claims. While it is not impossible that Russian agents have been active in the region (indeed, it would be surprising if they were not – just as it would be surprising if the CIA were not active in Kiev), the television coverage and press reports indicate that these actions are the work of local people and local armed militia groups. The fact that they are “well armed” is hardly surprising in view of the fact that army basis and police stations have been raided and their weapons removed. In fact, in many cases the local police have gone over to the side of the rebels, taking their arms with them.
Nor is it clear that Putin actually intends to send his troops across the border. Time magazine quotes Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, a soap manufacturer who took the title of “people’s mayor” after seizing power in Sloviansk: “We need guns, you understand? We’re running out of everything but spirit,” he has pleaded for assistance from Russia, but has apparently been ignored. Time comments:
“His militia force, he admits, is made up partly of volunteers who have come from Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and other parts of the former Soviet Union. But Kiev’s cries of a separatist insurgency fuelled with money, weapons and troops from the Russian government look out of sync with the reality in Slavyansk.
“Well-armed fighters like Mozhaev make up a small minority of Ponomaryov’s force, perhaps a few hundred men at most, with a fair share of Cossacks among them. Known as ‘green men’ for the camouflage uniforms they wear, these militia members are not as well drilled and equipped as the Russian troops who occupied Crimea last month. If there is a Russian military presence currently in Slavyansk, it has remained or is now out of public view.”
The active elements in the seizure of local government buildings represent a relatively small number – maybe a few thousands in all. However, this is not the decisive question. The most important element in the equation is the attitude of the majority of the population. Even though they may not take an active part in the insurrection, it is clear that the majority of the people look upon the actions of the insurgents favourably. There are no reports of big demonstrations in support of the Kiev government or any serious move to eject the rebels from the occupied buildings. And in the event of an attack by forces sent from Kiev, this passive sympathy would very quickly turn into anger and support for Russian military intervention.
An opinion poll, conducted in early April by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology in 8 Southern and Eastern regions of Ukraine, gave a very interesting insight into the mood of the masses. In the 8 regions as a whole, 49.6% consider Yatsenyuk’s government as illegitimate (and a further 13% partly illegitimate), with the figure rising to 72% in Donetsk and 70% in Lugansk. Regarding the form of state they prefer for Ukraine, 45% are in favour of decentralisation of power with an additional 24.8% in favour of federalisation, and over 86% support the principle of election of regional governors (as opposed to appointment from Kiev). Regarding relations with Russia and the EU, 42% support joining a Customs Union with Russia (rising to 72% in Donetsk and 64% in Lugansk) as opposed to 24% who support joining the European Union.
Perhaps the most interesting question, which shows the potential for a class-based alternative, is the one regarding the properties of the oligarchs. Overall in the 8 regions, 41% say that property acquired illegally by the oligarchs should be nationalised, but an additional 24% say all their properties should be nationalised, with only 4% answering that private property should be respected.
On April 19, Time magazine published the following, which gives an idea of the mood of the passive majority:
“Deduk, the local lawyer, wasn’t so sure. Sitting on a bench with her son Stepan at the edge of the demonstration, she said most of the people she knows are content to stay on the sidelines, and if Russia comes in and conquers the region like it did with Crimea last month, they’ll most likely shrug and accept it as their fate. ‘People forget all the horrors we faced under Moscow during the Soviet Union,’ she says. ‘All they remember is that wages were paid and the medical care was free’.”
What does Putin want?
The turbulence in Eastern Ukraine has raised fears in the West that Russia might repeat its takeover of the Crimea. The presence of 40,000 Russian troops on the border lends considerable weight to these fears, to which the West has no possible reply. Its impotence was revealed in a farcical manner when NATO recently dispatched a massive force of no fewer than 600 American soldiers - to the Baltic States! In the first place, there is absolutely no indication that Russia has any intention of invading the Baltic States, and if there were it is somewhat doubtful that the presence of 600 marines, even if they were all Rambos, would make the slightest difference. This is an example of the height of diplomatic and military idiocy.
In any case, it seems likely that Putin’s goals are more limited and subtle than that. In fact, Russia’s actions are not offensive but defensive in character. Ever since the fall of the USSR, US imperialism has been pursuing a long-range strategy of detaching one ex-Soviet republic after another from the Russian sphere of influence. But now in the case of Ukraine, Moscow has decided to dig its heels in. Russia is saying to the West: “Thus far, and no further!” It is determined to prevent Ukraine from escaping Russia’s economic and military orbit.
The Americans and EU want to get control of Ukraine, while the Russians wish to keep it in their sphere of influence. The aim of the West is more difficult to achieve, while that of Russia is far easier. They do not have to invade Ukraine, since they have many other weapons in their armoury, especially economic ones. In order to present its policies in a reasonable manner, the Kremlin has put forward what seems to be a very moderate demand: the adoption of a federal system of government giving far more power to the governors across Ukraine.
Such a structure would weaken the central government in Kiev, and ensure that Ukraine will not be anti-Russian. In practice, it would amount to the Finlandisation of Ukraine. Whatever government came to power in Kiev, it could do nothing without taking into consideration the views of Moscow. And there will be absolutely no question of Ukraine ever joining either NATO or the EU. However unpalatable this outcome might be to Washington and Brussels, it is now the best they can hope for.
What will happen in the weeks ahead is impossible to predict with certainty. The one thing that is certain is that imperialism has already suffered a defeat and it will not be able to recover from it.
There are a number of different options – none of them very appetising for the West. The first possibility hinges on the outcome of the forthcoming presidential elections. Russia has already succeeded in destabilising these elections to a large extent and casting doubt on the legitimacy of whoever is elected. The new regime will be weak and under heavy pressure from Moscow. If Russia cannot obtain a candidate to its liking, it will press ahead with its demands for a federal constitution which would allow it to exercise a veto over foreign, economic and military policy.
So far, no candidate is publicly allied with Moscow. Mikhail Dobkin, the candidate of the Party of Regions (the party of Yanukovich) would be Moscow’s favourite, but has little or no chance of winning. On the other hand, there is Yulia V. Tymoshenko, who was one of the leaders of the so-called Orange Revolution, but who conveniently forged a close working relationship with Vladimir Putin when she was prime minister. So far she has kept in the background, but may in the future be put forward as a “compromise” candidate.
In any event, no Ukrainian leader will dare to stand up to Putin, who has his hand on the oil and gas supplies and 40,000 troops on the border and a commanding influence over a large part of the Ukrainian population. Moreover, the economies of Russia and Ukraine are inseparably connected: one third of Ukraine’s exports go to Russia.
The second outcome is even worse for the West. If the Kiev government is unable to regain control of its Eastern regions, it could end up in a situation similar to that which occurred in Crimea. If the people of the East and South held a referendum on whether to join Russia, the result would almost certainly be a majority for secession. Ukraine as we know it would therefore cease to exist.
Already protesters in Donetsk have announced that they would hold such a referendum on May 11. However, it is noticeable that Moscow did not immediately endorse the proposal. Putin is behaving cautiously, keeping all options open. If he can achieve his main objectives without the heavy cost of either military action or taking over a bankrupt Ukrainian economy and paying the bills, he would obviously prefer it. However, the inherent instability of the situation means that he is not entirely free to decide.
This brings us to the third outcome: a full-scale invasion. Is this likely? For months the Western media has been generating a hysterical propaganda campaign about alleged Russian military aggression in Ukraine. However, such military aggression has so far not materialised. The troops massed on the Russian side of the border have been staging a series of manoeuvres close to the Ukrainian frontier, but nothing more.
The latest statements of the Americans and Russians appear to suggest that behind the scenes they are trying to reach a compromise. Yesterday Putin stated that Russia had no intention of invading Ukraine. It is possible that this is just a bluff. Before every war the leaders of the contending states always make similar statements before launching an attack. However, in this case there is no reason to doubt the sincerity of Mr Putin’s intentions.
At this moment in time, Putin has no need to invade Ukraine, since he has already achieved his main objective. Whoever stands at the head of the government in Kiev must now understand very clearly that he or she can do nothing without Moscow’s permission and that all the high-sounding declarations of solidarity from Washington and Brussels in practice count for nothing when it comes to standing up to Russia.
However, as we have explained in previous articles, the unravelling of the Ukrainian crisis has a logic of its own, one that cannot easily be controlled by Kiev, Moscow or Washington. The weaker the Kiev government becomes, the more inclined it will be to resort to desperate measures. Faced with the potential disintegration of the Ukrainian army, the Kiev government has began to assemble an alternative armed force. The National Guard has already increased its numbers by incorporating the Maidan Self-Defence and other armed paramilitary groups. If that was not enough, the Ministry of the Interior has announced the creation of Territorial Self Defence units or battalions, composed of the dregs of Ukrainian society: fascists, ultranationalists, lumpens, criminals and all kind of adventurers ready to take the most extreme and brutal actions which ordinary soldiers would refuse to perform. Right Sector Nazis have already announced they will join the Donbas Battalion in order “to fight separatists”.
This measure is an expression of a desperation born of impotence. It is not difficult to imagine what such an armed militia could do if sent to South East Ukraine. The spectre of Yugoslavia raises its ugly head: massacres and ethnic cleansing, a wave of refugees to the East and West and all the inevitable consequences of civil war. Under these conditions, whatever the intentions of Vladimir Putin may be, a Russian intervention would become inevitable.
The consequences for Russia
A Russian invasion would be a very risky affair for Vladimir Putin. His support soared to over 70 percent after the annexation of Crimea. But that was achieved without violence and without the loss of a single Russian soldier. The people of Crimea welcomed the Russian army as liberators and this was the impression given to the big majority of the Russian people. After decades of national humiliation, the Russian people breaded a collective sigh of relief. Vladimir Putin could bask in the sunshine of public approval – at least for a while.
Many on the Left in Russia are in a mood of deep depression. They see the rise of nationalist sentiment among the working class and despair. But the Russian left in general is completely divorced from the working class and unable to find a common language with it. It is not true that the Russian workers have become reactionaries because they express sympathy for their oppressed brothers and sisters in the Ukraine and their hostility to Ukrainian fascism.
Moreover, the mood of society can change quickly. In 1914, the patriotic mood in Russian society was far more pronounced than what it is today, and yet only three years later the same workers who waved the tsarist flag were waving the red flag and fighting for soviet power.
Although the Russian army would undoubtedly inflict a heavy defeat on the Ukrainian army in a war, victory would not come cheap as it did in Crimea. There would be many Russian casualties and far worse to come. The bitterness and national hatred that would be engendered by such a conflict would last for generations and produce poisonous fruit in the form of terrorist acts and atrocities. The experience of Chechnya shows that a military victory can be more costly than a defeat.
The economic consequences, not only for Russia and the Ukraine, but for the entire world would be incalculable. The so-called recovery of the world economy is anaemic and fragile. The feverish boom on the stock markets is a reflection of unbridled financial speculation, not solid economic growth. The speculative bubble can burst at any time, plunging the world economy into a deep slump. The markets hate instability of any kind and a Russian invasion of Ukraine would undoubtedly be the signal for a stampede on financial markets. The hardest hit would be Russia itself.
Putin can afford to laugh at the pitiful “sanctions” threatened by a cowardly European Union, but he must be seriously alarmed by the outflow of capital from Russian markets ($60bn in the first quarter of 2014) and the fall of the rouble. The Russian economy is already in recession (having fallen by 0.3% in the first quarter of 2014). The financial cost of an invasion and a severe slump in the Russian economy would quickly reverse his favourable approval rating – a matter very close to his heart. The hero of Crimea would swiftly be transformed into the man who caused Russia’s ruin. An economic slump would have a sobering effect on the Russian working class who would quickly shake off the fumes of patriotic intoxication. The ground would be prepared for a new upsurge of the class struggle in Russia. This is the explanation for Putin’s sudden and surprising conversion to “pacifism”.
We condemn the reactionary and hypocritical actions of Western imperialists in regard to Ukraine. They are dictated solely by the selfish interests of the US imperialists and their stooges in Brussels and Berlin. They have no interest in the fate of the Ukrainian people who are mere pawns in their cynical calculations.
But it would be a serious mistake to have any illusions in the intentions of Putin and the Kremlin clique. They are using the natural desire of the Russian-speaking population of South East Ukraine in order to apply pressure on the Kiev government. They also seek to control Ukraine and protect “Russian interests”, that is to say, the interests of the big capitalist oligarchs who have plundered Russia, just as the Ukrainian oligarchs (both Ukrainian and Russian-speaking ones) have looted Ukraine. The working class cannot give any support to either but must maintain at all times an independent class position.
Nationalism or class struggle?
In recent weeks even the Western press has been forced to admit that whereas the Maidan movement was predominantly composed of middle class and petty bourgeois elements, the movement in the South East is solidly working class. The recent miners’ strikes in the Donbas region are an indication of the potential for independent class action.
However, the national question threatens to cut across the class struggle, leading to the possibility that the mass movement in the South East will be manipulated by unscrupulous elements and Russian speaking oligarchs who will play the national card to defend their own selfish interests. Worst still, the threat from the extreme Ukrainian nationalists, including open Nazis and fascists, can encourage the development of Russian ultra-nationalist tendencies and fascist Black Hundred elements of an equally sinister character. It goes without saying that all such tendencies are enemies of the working class, whether they march under the Ukrainian or the Russian flag, and must be opposed by all means.
The situation remains extremely unstable and volatile. The final outcome is uncertain. The violent rhetoric of nationalist Ukrainian publications stands in complete contradiction to the soothing speeches of the diplomats and the Geneva agreement. The formation of a fascist Ukrainian militia is a direct threat to the working class. Forces are being unleashed that cannot be easily controlled.
We fully support the movement of the workers of the South East of Ukraine to arm and organise to defend themselves against the reactionary government in Kiev and the fascist gangs that are organizing pogroms under its protection. We support the movement to take over local government and drive out the corrupt and reactionary governors.
However, the workers must be vigilant to ensure that their courageous actions are not usurped by unprincipled and voracious bourgeois elements who drape themselves in the Russian flag in order to seize power for their own corrupt purposes. Our slogan must be: “Down with the bourgeois oligarchs!” It is a matter of indifference whether they speak Russian or Ukrainian.
May Day in Kharkhiv
The revolutionary movement of the workers of South East Ukraine can only succeed if it spreads to the workers in the rest of Ukraine. That can never happen if it confines itself to a purely Russian nationalist programme.
In the same way that the sight of fascist and Banderaist banners in Maidan repelled the people of Crimea and the South East, so the presence of Russian ultra nationalists, Cossacks and Black Hundred elements on demonstrations with Russian monarchist flags alarm and repel people in other parts of Ukraine. Our flag is neither the Ukrainian flag nor the flag of capitalist counterrevolution in Russia but the red flag of Lenin, the flag of October, the flag of revolutionary proletarian internationalism.
For this reason it is a serious mistake to call for Russian military intervention. Nothing could be more calculated to alienate the Ukrainian-speaking workers and peasants and drive them into the arms of reaction. The division of the living body of Ukraine would serve the interests of neither the workers of the Donbas or those of Kiev and Lviv. Such a step would be devastating for everyone concerned and have far reaching consequences nationally and internationally.
The working class of South East Ukraine may speak Russian, but they have no interest in the division of the Ukraine, which would be a disaster for everyone but a handful of wealthy oligarchs and gangsters.
It is necessary to unite all the workers of Ukraine on a programme that combines revolutionary-democratic demands with demands to expropriate the oligarchs. Only a class policy can cut across the nationalist madness and unite the working class in common revolutionary struggle.
No war between the peoples, no peace between the classes!
Expropriate the thieving oligarchs under democratic workers’ control!
For an independent, united socialist Ukraine!