As the United Nations’ estimate of internally-displaced people in Ukraine climbs to 1.2 million and the number of citizens of the Donetsk People’s Republic killed exceeds 3,000, ‘president’ Poroshenko continues to fiddle whilst Ukraine burns, secure in the knowledge that US imperialism is backing his junta to the hilt. Others in the imperialist camp, however, are growing increasingly uneasy.
France and Germany get cold feet
Increasingly conscious that the war and the anti-Russian sanctions are also damaging to their own national interests, France and Germany are both exhibiting mounting irritation at the double-talk emanating from Kiev over the implementation of the Minsk Accords.
On 6 May, Ukraine, Russia and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) signed up to the creation of four working groups to focus on security, political issues, the economy and refugees – a development which the German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier hailed as a serious breakthrough in fulfilling the Minsk peace roadmap.
He was eager to ram home the message that, “although the settlement is difficult” and the “ceasefire is very fragile”, “there are no alternatives, despite any difficulties, to working on implementing the Minsk deals”. (Breakthrough to Ukraine peace in recent days, no alternative to Minsk deal – German FM, RT, 13 May 2015)
These sentiments did not find a ready echo in Kiev, however, where US support for the fascist junta has encouraged Poroshenko to trample over all diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis. Scorning the “pseudo-peace”, he recently told the German TV channel ZDF that “we will fight to the last drop of blood” and retake Donetsk Airport by force – in flat contradiction of his earlier pious expressions about “honouring the agreement”. (Poroshenko says Minsk deal ‘pseudo-peace’, vows to fight to the last drop of blood, RT, 14 May 2015)
Whatever half-hearted polite noises the puppet Poroshenko makes to cover his tracks, it is clear that, safe in the knowledge that Washington is indeed willing to fight to the last drop of (Ukrainian) blood to advance its anti-Russian agenda, the junta is content to rely on its US patrons, contemptuous of all others.
Nuland barges in
So Steinmeier’s ‘no alternative to Minsk’ remark is aimed at least as much at Washington as at Kiev. When 16 May (the date agreed for the groups to begin work in Minsk) arrived, Washington made a last-minute bid to recapture the diplomatic initiative, despatching State Department attack dog Victoria Nuland (of “F*** the EU” fame) to Minsk to try and gatecrash the party. At the same time, Uncle Sam also broadcast his intention of muscling in on the deliberations of both the Normandy Four (France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia) and of the Contact Group (Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE).
Nuland’s declaration that the US plans to play a more significant role in the Minsk talks (ie, conspire with the junta to wreck them) will have gladdened few hearts in the Reichstag or the Elysée Palace. French president Hollande recently ticked off puppet prime minister Yatsenyuk over truce violations in east Ukraine, and the German government’s Coordinator for Relations with Russia, Gernot Erler, has told Kiev that it should make more efforts to implement the ceasefire, urging Merkel to “ask Poroshenko a few questions connected with implementation of the Minsk agreements”.
Erler noted that German politicians are “concerned about belligerent rhetoric” from Kiev, and in diplomatically understated language came to the verdict that “unfortunately some doubts have crept in over past weeks that Ukraine is also 100 percent ready to implement and observe all 13 points adopted on 12 February this year”. (US admits for the first time that Kiev fails to honour Minsk accords – lawmaker, Tass, 13 May 2015)
This was putting it mildly indeed. The Donetsk People’s Republic reported on 14 May that Ukrainian forces had violated the ceasefire 43 times in just a single 24-hour period, shelling 12 settlements in the region. (See Kiev forces violate ceasefire regime 43 times over last 24 hours — DPR defence ministry, Tass, 14 May 2015)
As the humanitarian crisis deepens, the junta’s ceasefire violations pile up and the economic and diplomatic consequences for west Europe spill back from the anti-Russian sanctions, relations between the Nato partners-in-crime are set to sour further. An illustration of the hard choices now to be faced is the shifting position of Greece.
Greece: a digression
When it suited Germany to lend fabulous sums of euros to Greece, the better to fatten its own bankers on usurious interest repayments and enable its manufacturers to flood the Greek market with German exports, this was viewed as responsible business practice. When the overproduction crisis broke cover in the form of a banking crisis in 2008, however, Greece’s borrowing habits were suddenly seen as proof of her ‘profligacy’, curable only by the imposition of a degree of austerity exceeding that in any other EU member state (so far).
This treatment of Greece as a whipping boy for all the ills besetting the EU has now resulted in the phenomenon of a very unstable populist government, which is frantically pointing in all directions at once – not all of them welcome to the West.
Having bragged before the election about the wonderful economic deal Syriza would extract without having to leave the EU, the government has suffered a series of humiliating rebuffs from its hoped-for benefactors. In its desperation, the shaky coalition government of left and right populist forces has dragged its feet over imposing sanctions against Russia, done some loud thinking about offering to host Russian bases and about the possibility of getting hold of Russian S-300 missiles, and is said to be weighing up whether to join the BRICS development bank.
Most worrying for imperialism, Russia is offering Greece a hefty slice of transit fees (a figure of $5bn has been mooted) if she cooperates with a plan to run the Turk-Stream pipeline on a route that bypasses Ukraine completely. (See Is this how DC plans to stop the Turk-Stream pipeline?, Wealth Watchman, 13 May 2015. The article also suggests that the colour revolution apparently being engineered in Macedonia is a punitive exercise aimed at bringing Greece to heel.)
Having suffered so many years of social crisis inflicted by her richer imperialist neighbours, Greece could be forgiven for seeking alternative arrangements as the economic crisis deepens within the core membership of the EU and the fires burning in Ukraine threaten to spread west as well as east.
Just at the moment when the Ukrainian Rada (parliament) was demonstrating its ‘democratic’ credentials by signing off a new law banning the display of communist symbols of any kind, Britain’s Fires Brigades Union (FBU) chose the same moment to turn its back on the anti-fascist resistance in the Donbass.
At its annual conference last year, the Rail and Maritime Transport union (RMT) passed an excellent resolution in support of the resistance. The union went on to raise the issue at the TUC conference, which in turn passed a similar motion. As a result, the official policy of British trade unionism for the last year has been to support the Donbass anti-fascist fighters.
Despite the lack of real support by trade-union leaders (ie, by mobilising workers for a campaign of non-cooperation with the war effort), this represented a significant step forward from the usual mealy-mouthed pacifism (or open support for the forces of reaction) that we have seen during the wars of the last 15 years. Given the marked reluctance of trade-union leaders to advance from avowedly ‘anti-war’ positions to actually supporting those who actively resist the violence exported by our own imperialist ruling class, even a paper resolution was a welcome advance.
Matt Wrack, the FBU’s Trotskyite general secretary, was a dissenting voice when the TUC agreed the resolution last year, and now his views have prevailed sufficiently upon the FBU delegates for their conference to vote down another motion about Ukraine. The motion, put forward by the Merseyside branch and worded in the mildest way possible, merely called on delegates to deplore the deaths of the 46 people trapped by nazis and murdered inside the burning trade-union building in Odessa in May last year. It also pointed out that Poroshenko’s government had seized power by a coup d’état and by the open imperialist intervention of the US and the EU.
As Merseyside brigade secretary Mark Rowe acknowledged when he spoke in support of the motion, “the resolution does not take sides”. Indeed, in this respect, the latest resolution took a regrettable step back from the clear support that was expressed at last year’s TUC conference for the anti-fascist resistance.
Perhaps the movers of the most recent motion believed that by this form of dilution they might smooth its passage. If so, they were mistaken: ‘not taking sides’ – and even allowing space for BBC-style propaganda about ‘wrongdoing on both sides’ – was not enough to satisfy Wrack.
To quote Rowe: “The resolution does not take sides, but we cannot be indifferent to the deaths in eastern Ukraine,” and further: “Naturally, we call for peace on all sides … We condemn violence on all sides.”
FBU leader Matt Wrack was not to be mollified by such concessions, however, and made it clear that the real sin of the motion was its failure to join in with the campaign of vilification and lies against the resistance struggle and against Russia. The motion, he said, “utterly ignores the role of Russia, which plays an imperialist role in the region. There are fascists on both sides … and we as trade unionists should take no side on which group of fascists we support.” (FBU conference: Delegates reject motion condemning Nato role in Ukraine, Morning Star, 16 May 2015)
An explanatory note to the new Ukrainian law banning communist symbols similarly pretends to be ‘even-handed’ in its operation, claiming: “the bill is directed at denunciation of communist and national-socialist totalitarian regimes as being criminal under the law”.
As right-wing mobs tear down statues of Lenin unimpeded and destroy Red Army war memorials under the benign eye of the junta, and as volunteer fascist brigades continue to sport crooked-cross armbands while they terrorise civilians in the east, we leave it to our readers to guess which part of the new law is likely to be enforced with the full power of the state and which to remain a dead letter.
Meanwhile, it is the job of all true anti-imperialists to refuse to propagate the bourgeoisie’s lies and to tell workers a few simple truths:
– that it is the Nato countries that are guilty of carrying out illegal and anti-popular regime change in Ukraine;
– that our rulers have rehabilitated and funded fascist organisations to help them do their dirty work of crushing the resistance to their coup;
– that Russia is not an imperialist country and poses no threat to workers outside its borders;
– that all the stories about ‘aggressive’, ‘totalitarian’ and ‘imperialist’ Russia are fairy tales aimed at preparing us to accept and fight in a war against Russia in the not-too-distant future …
– and that if we want to avoid such a calamity it is in our own best interests (as well as being our fraternal duty) to support with every means at our disposal the anti-imperialist, anti-fascist resistance fighters of the Donbass and to expose all those who want to tie us to imperialism’s anti-Russia war chariot.