Back in 2019, when actor-turned-politician Volodymyr Zelensky won the Ukraine presidency, ousting Petro Poroshenko, he raised hopes of an end to the war in the east, a rapprochement with Russia and a campaign to uproot the rampant corruption in the country’s political elite.
Fast forward to 2021 and the war still rankles on in the east, Russophobia and corruption continue to rule the roost and yesterday’s golden boy is sinking like a stone in the opinion polls. And in response to his declining fortunes, Zelensky has unleashed a wave of political repression no less ruthless than anything initiated by his predecessor in the presidency.
Regardless of what Ukrainians themselves might want, US imperialism has every intention of keeping Kiev’s war of aggression against the people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk simmering on the back burner, ready at any moment to launch new provocations on the Russian border if and when required by Washington’s strategic confrontation with Russia.
So far as the west is concerned, Ukraine’s economy may be trashed, corruption may spread to every corner of society and the political landscape may favour the luxuriant growth of the most toxic ultranationalist nihilism – no matter, so long as Ukraine continues to serve as a pawn in the imperialist game.
This latest wave of political repression has as its chief focus the leader of the country’s largest opposition bloc, Viktor Medvedchuk, who has been riding high in opinion polls of late.
He now faces charges of funding terrorism, charges which if successful could put the man in jail for a long spell. In an interview with RT, he explained that the case against him tied into Kiev’s recent moves to shut down Russian language media seen as critical of the government, some of which are connected with Medvedchuk’s party.
Parrying charges that he would be happy to give away the country’s independence to Russia, Medvedchuk points out that it is Zelensky’s government and the west that really threaten Ukraine’s independence:
“We live in an independent sovereign state. Or, at least, we used to live in one. Now, both independence and sovereignty are being undermined by external influence and most importantly by external political systems imposed by Washington. When you see that the US embassy supported both the closure of the channels and the sanctions against me it causes real outrage.”
He went on to explain that America is “used to creating the image that they are the paragon of democracy, but it is their authorities who have imposed external governance and who are now running Ukraine as their colony”. (Amid ‘political repression’, Ukraine becoming American ‘colony’ in Europe, says sanctioned opposition leader Medvedchuk by Gabriel Gavin, RT, 25 February 2021)
Whilst blackguarding the judicial authorities in Russia for daring to bring to book the ultranationalist and racist Alexei Navalny for his criminal activities, America has nothing but praise for Kiev’s illegal persecution of Medvedchuk on trumped-up charges and its censorship of oppositional media.
The US embassy in Kiev has claimed that Kiev’s actions are “in line with Ukrainian law”, adding that it supports the president’s efforts “to counter Russia’s malign influence”. With the boot firmly on the wrong foot, the embassy tweeted: “We must all work together to prevent disinformation from being deployed as a weapon in an info war against sovereign states.” (Ibid, RT)
In this connection, in November, Richard Stengel, a member of new US president Joe Biden’s ‘transition’ team and Voice of America stalwart, offered this gem by way of justifying new curbs on the freedom of speech: “All speech is not equal. And where truth cannot drive out lies, we must add new guardrails,” giving Russia as an example. (Washington joins crusade against free speech, backs Ukrainian crackdown on opposition media, RT, 3 February 2021)
Whilst Washington is quite comfortable with Kiev’s suppression of political dissent, there are tentative signs that the European Union is less happy. Whilst the US is clearly on a collision course with Russia, the EU is less than eager to join it for the ride.
Former president Donald Trump treated its imperialist allies with contempt and now his successor Joe Biden faces an uphill struggle to restore trust. Germany right now is likely more interested in getting the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline finished than it is in playing Washington’s infowar games.
Peter Stano, spokesman for the EU’s foreign diplomatic service, went on record to Interfax-Ukraine that attempts to regulate against disinformation “should not happen at the expense of freedom of the media and should be carried out with full respect for fundamental rights and freedoms and in accordance with international standards”. (Free speech-loving western journos cheer as Ukraine charges ‘sh*t-stirring’ blogger with treason for ‘discrediting state policy’ by Gabriel Gavin, RT, 19 February 2021)
Kiev’s war of aggression against the people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk has never ceased, contrary to the impression given by the near-total mainstream news blackout. For the inhabitants of the Donbass region, the war has never gone away, and, according to reportage from the Russian MKRU website, fears are currently growing of an imminent escalation.
The people’s militias are quoted as saying that a new wave of aggression could be different from previous waves, with attacks not limited to the areas around the demarcation zone but homing in on urban warfare.
“Donbass lives in anticipation of a big war again. Sources’ reports confirm fears in Lugansk and Donetsk. The tension has been growing for a week now. Experts are unambiguous in their forecasts: the war will be very soon, and it will be very different from everything that has happened before in the Donbass.
“In the beginning of February, Kiev began to hint about sharpening of the situation in the south-east of Ukraine in 2021. It soon became a news trend in Ukraine. On 22 February, the minister of defence of Ukraine Ruslan Khomchak stated bluntly: Ukraine is preparing for battles, specifically for urban ones.
“‘Meanwhile, the line of demarcation today runs far from cities. What does it mean? They are preparing for an offensive operation, and they are preparing for it openly,’ veteran of the people’s militia Andrei Marochko tells our newspaper.
“‘They have apparently already begun the first phase of such a major offensive. And they began quite actively – for the third day on the frontline, fighting is breaking out. Specifically, in the Gorlovka direction. My good sources report casualties: among the militia, the people’s militia and the civilian population.’
“Meanwhile, the expert claims that on the other side of the frontline, instructors from abroad are at work. ‘According to our intelligence, on the territory of Ukraine, foreign military advisers and instructors are really preparing their armed forces for battles inside cities. There are many pros among them: some have gone through Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Africa.’
“And at the same time, the expert notes: if a new round of escalation breaks out in the Donbass, then it will be another type of hostilities, in accordance with completely different rules. ‘It will be a different type of war. A war in which we will not see any of what happened in 2014-15,’ assures Andrey Marochko.” (MKRU website, 23 February 2021)
It is not easy to get a full picture of the present situation, but journalist Eva Bartlett and photographer Dean O’Brien are among those reporting a new intensification in the shelling of Donbass civilians by Ukrainian military. (Seven years after Maidan divided country, Ukraine intensifies shelling of Donbass to sound of deafening silence from western media by Eva Bartlett, In Gaza, 2 March 2021)
Given the tightening political repression within Ukraine itself, and with confrontation with the Russian Federation high on the to-do list of the Biden administration, the popular forces in the Donbass are right to be preparing for the worst.
They have the fraternal support of all those who struggle against imperialism.