Smarting from the failure to topple President Assad and subvert the Syrian constitution – a failure due in considerable part to the insistence of Moscow upon upholding the UN charter and championing a diplomatic solution to the crisis – the US and Europe switched their main focus to Ukraine.
On the road to the coup
Seizing upon the country as a bulwark against Russia, the imperialists hoped to weaken Moscow’s authority on the world stage and prejudice its economic interests – by ‘fair’ means or foul.
It seemed at first that the elected Kiev government under President Yanukovych could be cajoled and bullied into signing a trade deal with the EU that would tie the country to imperialist interests at the expense of simultaneously lowering the living standards of its own people and exposing its Russian neighbour to the dumping of cheap exports.
Yet when the moment came to sign off the deal, the government abruptly recoiled from the prospect of trying to sell the accompanying IMF restructuring plans to the general population. The 28 EU member states that gathered in Vilnius last November for an ‘Eastern Partnership’ summit, on a promise that the wandering Ukrainian sheep would at last be definitively joining the EU/Nato fold, instead witnessed Yanukovych’s refusal to sign up.
So, with ‘fair’ means failing, it was time to turn to ‘foul’ ones. If the elected government failed to dance dutifully enough to the West’s tune, then (in the name of democracy, of course) it had to be replaced by one that would be more biddable.
The ‘pro-EU’ demonstrations which then erupted on Independence Square – shamelessly egged on by the West – represented the sentiments of some in the west of the country in combination with the interests of a Kiev elite, and were infected from the outset with the poisonous traces of the fascism to which Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism was so drawn in WWII, and which it is now revisiting with a vengeance. When Yanukovych refused to sign the EU trade pact, the unexpected setback for those who yearned to submit to western domination had the effect of prematurely triggering what appeared to be a destabilisation plan originally intended as a disruption of the elections due in 2015, but now brought forward in a panic.
Over three months, the protesters, led by an assortment of rival parties which had all been beaten hollow at the last election in 2012 and increasingly geed up by an even less representative ragbag of jew-baiters, pogromists and all-round fascists, graduated from placard-waving to violent provocations, seizures of administrative centres and intimidation against the MPs of the elected Party of the Regions, as well as from the Communist Party with which it was allied.
Meanwhile, the western media glorified the protests as supposedly being the latest expression of ‘democratic’ ‘people power’ against ‘tyranny’, demonised the elected government, and sabotaged all efforts to resolve the crisis through negotiation.
On 21 February, the elected government pledged itself to abide by a compromise deal with opposition leaders that had been brokered by Germany, France and Poland, under which a ‘national-unity’ government would be formed, the president would cede some of his powers, and elections would be brought forward to December this year.
Within hours, however, this solemn agreement was torn up by the rebels. The governing party’s MPs were forced to flee parliament in fear of their lives, the remaining rump named Olexander Turchynov as interim president and the leader of Yulia Tymoshenko’s Fatherland party (Washington’s favoured candidate) Arseniy Yatsenyuk as prime minister, and an arrest warrant was issued for the country’s democratically-elected president.
Not a murmur was raised in the imperialist media over the cynical way in which the compromise agreement, witnessed and sanctioned by two major powers, was simply thrown under the wheels of the advancing fascist coup. Rather, it was cheered on unreservedly.
What the West did not reckon on was the scale of the resistance that its meddling would provoke. In major cities throughout the industrialised east of the country (where the Russian-speaking proletariat is strongly represented), thousands have come onto the streets to denounce the coup and beg the Russian Federation to protect them from the hostile actions of the illegal regime now wielding power in the west of the country.
In Kharkov, the thousand or so activists gathered to defend the city’s Lenin monument grew to nearly 5,000 later in the day, standing outside a local administration building to demand a referendum. Similar protests have been witnessed in Lugansk, where 3,000 activists blocked the regional administration building. About a thousand of them went on to occupy the HQ, raising the Russian flag and demanding the resignation of Mikhail Bolotskikh, the regional governor parachuted in by Kiev.
In Donetsk, in a stand-off between anti-coup protesters and police, the administrative HQ was occupied by activists. When eventually the police siege ousted the occupation, the protesters gathered their forces, judged their moment and then broke through police cordons again, reoccupying the building and hoisting the Russian flag aloft.
The city has seen a wave of anti-coup protest triggered by the rump parliament’s decree removing Russian, as well as minority, language rights. Protesters are demanding control of the regional police force and the severing of ties with the coup regime.
Protests in Donetsk, as in Lugansk, are directed in particular at the imposition of unelected officials sent in by Kiev to ensure subordination of regional powers to the new illegal authorities. In the case of Donetsk, the new would-be ‘governor’ is Sergey Taruta, the billionaire owner of mining giant ISD.
In the time between his appointment and his arrival, the citizenry of Donetsk swiftly chose their own ‘people’s governor’, Pavel Gubarev. Gubarev has subsequently been kidnapped by Special Security Forces and taken to Kiev on sedition charges.
Naturally, the most serious resistance to date has been that in the Crimea, which has now by an overwhelming majority of 96.77 percent voted to join the Russian Federation. Western carping ahead of the referendum failed to explain how this democratic plebiscite was deemed to be in conflict with international law, whilst the actions of the ‘Kosovo Liberation Army’ gangsters in ripping Kosovo away from Serbia (without even the pretence of a vote) was applauded by Tony Blair, William Hague et al.
Russia’s Black Sea fleet has been permanently stationed in Crimea under long-standing fraternal agreements entered into with Ukraine. Contrary to claims that Russia had ‘invaded’ Crimea, existing agreements authorised the garrisoning of up to 25,000 soldiers, although in normal times only around half of this number would be in place. With the elected government in the Ukraine overthrown by a fascist coup, these are hardly normal times.
Western reporting has sown deliberate confusion between the identities of conventional Russian forces on one hand and the activities of local self-defence militia drawn from the local population. These militia are variously misrepresented as the Russian army in disguise or as criminal gangs – anything, in short, rather than acknowledging the simple truth that they are local defence forces, drawn from the working class and tasked with the protection of Crimea’s liberty from illegal infringement.
Moreover, the number of Soviet flags, hammers and sickles, and portraits of JV Stalin that are evident in nearly every demonstration, along with the central place assumed by the defence of Lenin monuments, shows that strong sentiment exists among the masses not only for reunification with Russia, but also for the reconstitution of the USSR as a fraternal socialist union of working people of all nationalities.
As the revolt against the coup spreads beyond Crimea and across the east of Ukraine, it appears that western hopes of dragging Ukraine under effective imperialist control, complete with the industrialised heartlands of the east, are backfiring badly.
Ankara and the Crimean Tatars
Whilst the media remain obsessed with attributing Ukraine’s difficulties to the supposedly sinister activity of Russian ‘foreigners’, it turns out that the real interlopers are not arriving from that quarter at all. It was not for nothing that Russian forces and local militia together have taken control over two airports, turning back incoming flights from Turkey.
Having failed to topple Syria’s legitimate government (despite an enormous expenditure of time and money sheltering and funding jihadist terrorists in that region), Ankara is now trying its luck with another band of putschists, sending its foreign minister to pay a courtesy call to the Kiev regime, where he asserted that “the status of Crimea amid the Ukraine crisis cannot be determined without Turkey playing a role”.
The nature of this role becomes clearer as reports surface of the involvement of the Turkish intelligence services in the coup. According to French news site Egalité et Réconciliation, one of those incoming flights from Turkey (now happily nipped in the bud) had on board dozens of Crimean Tatar jihadists. Trained by Turkey and previously deployed in Syria, they had planned to switch to the Ukraine – just the latest country to be turned into a battlefield by the crisis-stricken imperialist war drive.
Tatars, once present in larger numbers in the Crimea, sadly suffered the inevitable consequences of their leaders’ active collaboration with the murderous Nazi occupation. After the war, they were transferred en masse in the overall interests of national security and specifically in an effort to remove the soil in which fascism had so rankly flourished.
In fact, the transfer was also in the interests of the Tatars’ own safety, since collaborators were not exactly popular with the majority of the locals who had suffered so appallingly under Nazi occupation. Despite having been ‘rehabilitated’ and ‘repatriated’ by Khrushchev as part of his anti-Stalin propaganda drive, many of those that remain or have since returned are nursing a historical grievance that imperialism is very happy to exploit for its own ends.
So it is that Tatars came to act as hired muscle in the Maidan, and in the Crimea celebrated the announcement of the coup by attacking an anti-coup rally in the capital Simferopol with rocks, bottles and fists, resulting in a score of injuries and one death.
Voice of Russia reports have revealed leaked email traffic between coup-leaders in Kiev and Tatars in Crimea which indicate that the planned bloodshed had greater ambitions, looking to coordinate efforts between Tatar sympathisers and Banderista groups. (Stepan Bandera, whose portrait is borne aloft by the reactionaries as they trample on monuments to Lenin, was a notorious Nazi collaborator in the last war.)
An email cockily announced that: “Everything is going according to the plan. We are ready to proceed with the second part of the play. As agreed earlier last week, my guys together with people from the ‘Karpatskaya Sech’ and UNA-UNSO [two fascist outfits] will arrive wherever is needed and with the necessary weapons. You only need to let us know the addresses of the warehouses in Simferopol, Sevastopol, Kerch, Feodosia and Yalta, and the time of the meeting … Don’t worry about the money, everything will be fine, just a little bit later. In the end, you know that if we succeed, you will get a lot more.”
Thanks to the alert response from the Crimean masses and the proximity of the Russian army, these western-backed efforts to arrange a historical rematch of WW2 (with a new ending) look set to be fruitless.
Erdogan’s meddling in Syria, not to mention his egregious corruption, has already earned him the hatred of the Turkish masses. Now his promotion of jihad in the Ukraine and Crimea can only deepen that hatred, currently erupting onto the streets after the death, following months in a coma, of the teenager, Berkin Elvan, slain by a police gas canister as he went to buy bread for his family.
In addition to meddling by Turks and Tatars, other players are turning up to present themselves as unlikely friends of Ukraine.
Israel, whose active role in promoting jihadism against Syria even extended to recruiting Algerian muslims, is now joining forces with outright anti-semites. It seems that when it comes to serving the ends of world imperialism, trivial differences in creed or principle may be swept aside with impunity.
So it was that the Times of Israel reported that ‘Delta’, a former soldier in the Israeli Defence Forces who was born in the Ukraine, was in charge of a 40-strong paramilitary unit calling itself the Blue Helmets and run by five former IDF soldiers. Delta told the journalist that he took his orders from Svoboda, an outright fascist party with impeccable anti-semitic views and a strong hand on the ‘protest’ tiller.
Whilst Delta claims that his fascist bosses treat him like a ‘brother’, the fragility of this fraternity is revealed when he explains the real reason for adopting his absurd nom de guerre. “If I were Ukrainian, I would have been a hero,” he tells the journalist. “But for me it’s better to not reveal my name if I want to keep living here in peace and quiet.” (28 February 2014)
Own goal for imperialism, suffering for the people
It is starting to dawn on imperialism that, having engineered a proxy civil war in the Ukraine – in the process stirring up antagonisms which largely lay dormant throughout the years in which the republic was one of the most productive in the Soviet Union, and all in the hope of drawing Ukraine fully into the EU/Nato-led camp and building up the country as a bulwark against the Russian Federation – its only reward will be to see the confirmation of Russian influence in the region, the further humiliation of US hegemonic aspirations and the possible break-up of the country.
This disintegration, if it occurs, will be entirely the responsibility of the dog-in-the-manger West, which would prefer to see a broken Ukraine than tolerate one that baulked at complete assimilation by imperialism.
And as the scale of the West’s failure over Ukraine dawns more generally, the feel-good mood music around the latest ‘colour revolution’ is giving way to mutual recrimination.
The world has already earwigged on the harmonious relations obtaining between Berlin and Washington as revealed in Victoria Nuland’s infamous “fuck the EU” phone call. Now we have the Estonian foreign minister – not the most probable whistle-blower – spilling the beans to the EU’s Catherine Ashton about what really happened on the Maidan, where it turns out that the snipers who were responsible for much of the death toll, and who were universally reported in the western media as doing the work of the government, were in fact under orders from the coup-plotters themselves.
“There is now stronger and stronger understanding that behind the snipers, it was not Yanukovych, but it was somebody from the new coalition,” Arms Paet told Ashton, who is clearly flummoxed by what she is hearing, stammering “I think we do want to investigate. I mean, I didn’t pick that up, that’s interesting. Gosh.” (But gosh, whatever happened to that investigation Catherine?)
Paet went on to recount the testimony of Olga Bogomolets, the doctor who ran the Maidan mobile clinic, treating the gravely injured. He noted that the doctor “told as well that all the evidence shows that the people who were killed by snipers from both sides, among policemen and then people from the streets, that they were the same snipers killing people from both sides … So that she then also showed me some photos she said that as a medical doctor she can say that it is the same handwriting, the same type of bullets, and it’s really disturbing that now the new coalition, that they don’t want to investigate what exactly happened.” The Estonian foreign minister concluded that the whole sniper issue “already discredits from the very beginning” the new Ukrainian power.
Just how popular the discredited puppet government of Arseniy Yatsenyuk will prove to be with Ukrainians as the chilling embrace of the IMF restructuring makes itself felt on a society already divided between an elite of rival monopoly capitalists and increasingly impoverished masses, remains to be seen.
They may have lost the military prize of Crimea, but the imperialists are still pushing ahead with as much of their agenda as is within their control. Within days of the coup, Ukraine’s gold reserves had been spirited away to New York (following those of Libya that have also been quietly disappeared since a proxy government was bombed into power in Tripoli in 2011), while the back-of-a-fag-packet corporate wish-list of draconian cuts to social spending has already started making its way through the comprador parliament.
The €11bn loan dangled like a carrot in front of a donkey by the EU brings with it, unlike the larger sum previously pledged by Russia, a very big stick indeed for a population that is already suffering dire poverty levels: rising gas bills, frozen government salaries, slashed pensions, and budget cuts for 2014 alone estimated at between $6.8bn and $8.4bn. Long after the pro-EU banners have been folded up and put away, the reality of tutelage to a US and western Europe that are themselves in major crisis will impose intolerable burdens on the people – burdens which they are unlikely to bear with any degree of equanimity.