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Ukraine: no Russian tanks or Western banks

16th March 2014

Ukraine: no Russian tanks or Western banks

Statement of the LRC Executive Committee

The tragedy of Ukraine is that working people have been fighting each other rather than their real enemies.

The essential background to understanding developments in Ukraine is the collapse of Stalinism and the restoration of capitalism. This impoverished the mass of the people. It even involved a fall in average life expectancy, which also occurred in Russia and other countries.

This transition led to the emergence of a handful of capitalist oligarchs who took over previously state-owned enterprises as their own private property. All the main players among the Ukrainian politicians at present are billionaires who have enriched themselves by looting the state.

The antagonisms in Ukraine are complicated by the divided history and culture of the country. The western half was originally part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and naturally faces to the West. The east was under the maw of the Russian Tsars. Most of the industry is located in the east, in the coal-rich Donbass region, and exports go mainly to Russia.

There are enormous tensions beneath the surface of events, ultimately because of the continuing         crisis of capitalism and the hardships that the working class faces. Because the labour movement is weak, and has not generally articulated a socialist programme to solve the problems of Ukraine, the pressure from below leaks out in all sorts of alternative forms of protest.

The ruling party in Ukraine was the Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions (PoR), a rotten clique of oligarchs. Their power base is in the east.

The EU is seen as a pole of attraction among western Ukrainians on account of its relative prosperity. The Romanians and Bulgarians could explain to them that their countries’ accession to the EU did not make them any richer.

Yanukovich signed a trade deal with Russia in preference to an accession agreement with the EU. Ukraine is virtually bankrupt. The people are desperate. The EU was hand in glove with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which was eager to impose further austerity on the desperately poor Ukrainian people.

Russia has the whip hand because it supplies the oil and gas that will prevent the Ukraine from freezing in the winter. Apart from cut price fuel, Putin offered to buy $15 billion in Ukrainian government bonds to bail out the stricken country, while the EU promised next to nothing.

The protestors against Yanukovich were a mixed bag. No doubt there were many genuine democrats in their ranks angry at the regime’s corruption and repression. The Svoboda far right party and the fascist Right Sector were also prominent in the protest. They trace their roots back to a pro-Nazi group of partisans in the Second World War and have come out with anti-Semitic and fascist slogans. Senator John McCain has also intervened in the Ukrainian movement, stirring up trouble in the interests of US imperialism. Western ‘intelligence’ forces have also been reported as meddling in the movement.

The raw fury and determination of the protestors is genuinely impressive, and reminiscent of prerevolutionary situations in the past. The LRC always has the duty to oppose state repression and defend democracy wherever it can. While many in the protests were seeking an alternative to the austerity capitalism of the oligarchs, the new government that has resulted represents only a different section of the oligarchy and the LRC can support this no more than its predecessor.
We have already been told fairy stories in the Western press of the ‘Orange revolution’ in 2004-5. This was no revolution at all but, despite mass protests, just replaced one set of rich scoundrels with another. Yushenko replaced Yanukovich as President after mass protests about ballot rigging in 2004. Yanukovich was elected, fairly it seems, as his successor in 2010.

Yanukovich imposed a Presidential system that gave him enormous powers and made a mockery of democracy in the Ukraine. Even those who had campaigned against his corruption were shocked when the Presidential palace was invaded and they saw the extent of his theft from the impoverished Ukrainian people.

Yanukovich used massive state repression against the protesters in Maidan Square. Riot police and snipers killed at least eighty two people. Some of the security forces were also shot and killed as some protesters were armed.

Yanukovich’s repression against the protesters in Maidan Square caused even the riot police to mutiny. The Ukrainian Rada saw the tide turning and moved against him. He was deposed and is now in Russia.

The opposition leaders quarrelled among each other even when they were combining together to overthrow Yanukovich.  Klitschko, the former boxer, has been prominently presented in the Western press as a potential leader of the country. He represents the interests of Merkel and German capitalism for the Ukraine. Yulia Tymoschenko has been released from prison, where the regime held her on trumped up charges. She is also a kleptocrat who gained her fortune from privatisation, stealing from the Ukrainian people. Svoboda and the Right Sector have also become members of the new government.

The interim President has called for a Ukrainian orientation towards the West and the European Union. The interim government in Kiev is not really legitimate. Its members were acclaimed by the crowd in Maidan Square, not elected. The rest of the country had no say.

The protesters in Kiev did not represent the whole country. In Crimea and in the east of Ukraine, where many speak Russian as their first language and identify themselves as Russians, the masses are appalled at the changes apparently being imposed over their heads. One of the first acts of the interim government was to exclude Russian as a national language of Ukraine. This was racist. It sent a message to Russian speakers that they were now second class citizens.
The Kiev Rada voted to repeal Law 4176, which penalises Nazi propaganda. This gives the green light to the Ukrainian fascists. They voted for Bill 4201, which bans Communist Party activity. The mass movement against Yanukovich was not a fascist movement, but fascists were actively involved and have won places in the interim government.

On the other hand the pro-Russian forces include the pro-Putin biker gang Night Wolves, who are like the Hells’ Angels. The ultra-right Russian MP Zhirinovsky has also got an enthusiastic response from Russian speakers in the East and the Crimean peninsula. Putin is stirring up Russian nationalism, but he is able to do so because of the actions of the Kiev government.

Putin has become extremely alarmed that his backyard has been destabilised. The Ukraine has become an international issue, raising international tensions.

The Crimea was actually Russian till 1954, when Kruschev gave it to Ukraine (Ukraine was part of the USSR at the time, so this was seen as just an administrative change). The majority of Crimean inhabitants regard themselves as Russians, while the minority of Crimean Tartars look to Kiev for protection.

The USA has been pushing the European Union to act on their behalf, since America can’t really claim any interests to defend in the region. The USA is calling for sanctions, but most EU countries don’t want that. For instance the British government wants the City of London to continue to be a bolthole for Russian billionaires to hide the money they’ve stolen, while they buy mansions and send their children to top private schools in Britain. So the EU opts for diplomacy, which in their terms means doing nothing.

The EU is much less belligerent than the USA. Germany gets a third of its oil and gas from Russia, which is a major trading partner. In the past Germany interfered in the disintegration of former Yugoslavia, looking to Slovenia and Croatia as client states and seeking to carve lumps out of the mess, with catastrophic results for the country.

The Russians have taken over the Crimean peninsula. Crimea has never been an independent country. The LRC opposes the occupation as an act of aggression, though so far it has been bloodless. This is in contrast to British and US imperialism’s interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, which caused hundreds of thousands of deaths. The West’s protestations about Russian aggression are entirely hypocritical.

The Russians can hold on to the Crimea militarily, and they apparently have majority support among the local population. The Crimean Parliament is backing a referendum for union with Russia. This would be a farce while the peninsula is occupied by pro- Russian troops. We demand that all troops be withdrawn before a vote be taken. Minority rights, especially of the Crimean Tartars, have to be protected whatever the status of the Crimea.

Is it true, as some on the left argue, that anything that weakens the USA’s grip is a good thing? No - Russia is also a capitalist country and Putin is just playing power politics in the region. There is nothing progressive in what he is doing. The people in eastern Ukraine and the Crimea are being stirred up by Russian nationalism and waving Russian flags.
What is needed above all is a working class party in the Ukraine independent of and hostile to the plutocrats who run the country and international solidarity with all those fighting against exploitation and oppression.


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