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Crisis in Ukraine

20th May 2014

Crisis in Ukraine:
LRC Statement,  May 2014

The Ukraine is drifting towards civil war, with an ever-rising body count and atrocities committed on both sides.

There is a serious possibility of the country breaking up, and even of a wider extension of the conflict throughout the region.

Whatever the origin of the conflict within the country and whatever the complaints and aspirations of the parties to the dispute, both sides are being manipulated by the great powers. Events in Ukraine have now become an international flashpoint.

The background to the dispute is the restoration of capitalism in Ukraine and Russia. In both countries this led to a profound impoverishment of the population while a handful of oligarchs seized the means of production and enriched themselves at the expense of the rest of the people.

In both countries the main political parties are just vehicles for the oligarchs to enrich themselves further. Independent movements of the working class have been marginalised.

The movement against President Yanukovich which led to his overthrow in February 2014 was a mixed affair. There were elements of a brave mass movement against his dictatorial tendencies. There was a regional drive among western Ukrainians against his perceived orientation towards Russia. There were also fascists such as Svoboda and the Right Sector operating in Maidan Square. The far right has also been active among the pro-Russian separatists.  US forces were trying to manipulate and channel the Maidan movement even before Yanukovich was overthrown.

Yanukovich was finally expelled when the Ukrainian Rada (Parliament) moved against him. It seems that important oligarchs such as Akhmetov and Firtash, who between them had 90 MPs on their payroll, decided his time was up and the Rada ordered his removal. Akhmetov now supports the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’, two-thirds of whose ‘representatives’ are on his payroll.

The provisional government in Kiev has not been elected. It was received with acclamation by crowds in Maidan Square. The rest of the country was not consulted. There are far right elements in the government, including in the interior ministry. The Kiev government has been receiving advice from the US government from the outset. It is in the process of delivering the impoverished nation into further IMF-imposed austerity.

The Kiev government exacerbated the regional conflict between the oligarchs by declaring that Russian was no longer an official national language of Ukraine. There are millions of Russian speakers in Ukraine. They were all threatened with second class citizenship.

It is quite clear that there are agents of both Russia and the West operating in Ukraine, stirring up trouble and spreading misinformation. This is producing a mood of panic and hysteria in the regions, contributing to the incipient civil war.

Putin was able to annex Crimea after a referendum received majority support of the people. It should be emphasised that a majority of the population there are Russian-speakers.  All the same the LRC denounced the referendum conducted under threat of arms as illegitimate. The interests of the minority of Crimean Tartars were not safeguarded.

In the two other areas where a referendum for union with Russia has been proposed the population is more mixed. There is no monolithic support for the separatists.

The referenda organised so far have been a joke. The pro-Russian separatists have declared huge majorities in Donetsk and Luhansk.

In the first place there was no independent verification of the results and they seem full of irregularities. It is not clear whether the vote was for wider autonomy within Ukraine, an independent republic or fusion with Russia. Those opposed to separation were well advised to stay away from the polling booths. The ballot was conducted under the barrel of a gun. This makes the result meaningless.

The Western press keeps up its barrage of propaganda. It is quite clear that Putin does not want to annex the Donetsk region. It is an economic basket case. Nor are the ‘pro-Russian separatists’ just his puppets. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West has peeled away all the buffer states between NATO and Russia and left Putin feeling isolated. Of course he is defending the interests of Russia as a great power, not striking blows against imperialism.

The provisional government in Kiev hopes to legitimise its rule with national elections on May 25th. The results will almost certainly be inconclusive because of a voting boycott in the east, a boycott that may well be enforced in some areas with armed threats.

Any fragment of Ukraine separated under the influence of the military might of a great power such as Russia is not the operation of ‘the right of nations to self-determination’. It is an annexation and should be opposed as such.

On the other hand the Western powers have conducted numerous invasions against independent countries. These hypocrites have no right to condemn Russian aggression. We would oppose with all our power any attempt by the West to use such an excuse to widen the conflict.

Meanwhile the violence continues to grow. We condemn all the killings on both sides. The worst single event so far was the burning of 42 people to death in the trade union building in Odessa. This act was apparently committed by supporters of the Kiev government.

The interim government in Kiev ludicrously calls the separatists ‘terrorists’ as if they are an Al Qaeda affiliate. Since many of the Ukrainian army live in the east of the country and sympathise with its people, they have mobilised the ‘Men in Black’ from the western part of the country as paramilitaries. These are the troops from Svoboda and the Right Sector, street fighting fascist thugs well instructed in the use of arms. These are probably the people who murdered the 42.
If the Kiev government is serious about restoring law and order in the eastern provinces they should investigate the murders and punish the guilty.

Ukraine has been an ethnically and linguistically mixed country for centuries.  The destruction of the country, as the case of former Yugoslavia shows, would be a tragedy for all Ukrainians. If the country is to survive then an entrenched respect for minority rights is essential.

The LRC supports neither bunch of oligarchic gangs fighting each other in Ukraine. Nor do we offer the slightest support either to the West or to Russia in their attempt to dismember the living body of the country. We shall oppose any attempt by either side to interfere in the affairs of Ukraine with armed force.

What has taken the form of a struggle between regions is a diversion from the task of uniting the working class all over Ukraine to fight together on the burning social issues. Tragically, the working class is divided. What is lacking, and what we look forward to, is an independent working class movement aimed at taking back the country’s wealth from the oligarchs and using it for the common good. In that process the workers must abandon attempts to kill each other in a cause which is none of their own and join in unity against their common enemy – the capitalist oligarchs.

The LRC welcomes the formation of Ukrainian Socialist Solidarity Campaign and encourages others to support its initiatives, such as in support of Ukrainian miners.


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